J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Verses and Other Notes (Inscriptions by Turner) c.1808-9

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 4 Verso:
Verses and Other Notes (Inscriptions by Turner) circa 1808–9
Turner Bequest CII 4a
Inscribed by Turner in pencil and ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove paper, 115 x 76 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
For the longer draft poems to which Turner’s verses belong, see Introduction to the sketchbook and note to folio 1 verso (D06722). Finberg did not transcribe the verses on this leaf, and the reading given here was first made by Rosalind Mallord Turner for the 1990 Tate exhibition:
The extended town far stretching East & West
Thy high raised smoke no prototype of Rest
Thy dim seen spires rais’d to Religion fair
Seen but at moments th[r]o that world of care
Where Vice & Virtue so commixing blends
Tho one retires while one distruction sends
Oer children's children whatever Low & Great
Debase or noble here together meet
To a concentrated focus hope together draws
The British Nation wealth the sovereign cause
As Andrew Wilton has noted, these lines represent ‘a substantially different draft’ of those Turner added to his picture London (Tate N00483)1 when he exhibited it at his gallery in 1809:
Where burthen’d Thames, reflects the crowded sail,
Commercial care and busy toil prevail,
Whose murky veil aspiring to the skies;
Obscures thy beauty and thy form denies,
Save where thy spires pierce thro the doubtful air,
As gleams of hope amidst a world of care.
London is a view of the Thames busy with shipping and towards the City with its many churches including St. Paul’s Cathedral, seen from Greenwich Park. Along with various sketches of Greenwich, the verses confirm the connection between sketchbook and picture. They offer a positive view of wealth and trade, in keeping with the larger poem drafted in the sketchbook for which they might form a conclusion. The version used for the picture is more ambivalent.
Below Turner’s verses are other notes in pencil:
Argastharchas by Aeschylus 
Democratus       Anaxagoras 
Pietro Borgio 
Ignazio ...        Durer 
Peruzzi          Alberti 
...                Taylor 
This is a list of authors to be read in preparation for Turner’s lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy; see Introduction to the sketchbook. As first observed by John Gage, the list is based on the ‘History of Perspective’ in Joseph Priestley’s History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours, 1771, vol.I, pp.91–2. Turner studied the perspective diagrams and theories of Albrecht Dürer, Leon Baptista Alberti and Dr Brook Taylor as well as ancient sources.2 Agatharchus, a painter from Samos, supposedly invented scenography in his stage designs for a tragedy by Aeschylus in the theatre at Athens, and was thought to have influenced the philosophers and geometers Democritus and Anaxagorus. Anaxagorus and Agatharchus are also mentioned, with other pioneers, in Turner’s Perspective and Lowther sketchbooks (Tate D07423; Turner Bequest CVIII 41 and Tate D07926; Turner Bequest CXIII 48a).

David Blayney Brown
March 2007

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.69–70 no.97 (pl.104).
Maurice Davies, Turner as Professor: The Artist and Linear Perspective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.19.

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Verses and Other Notes (Inscriptions by Turner) c.1808–9 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2007, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-verses-and-other-notes-inscriptions-by-turner-r1130821, accessed 21 June 2024.