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J.M.W. Turner

J.M.W. Turner, by Sir John Gilbert, circa 1837 -NPG 5566 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

J.M.W. Turner

after Sir John Gilbert
circa 1837
13 in. x 10 in. (330 mm x 254 mm)
NPG 5566

Inscriptionback to top

Signed lower right illegibly in pencil: F. J. Meyer (or Meyrick) followed by a possible date.
Inscribed on the mount lower left in pencil by Sir Frank Short:
Portrait of J. M. W. Turner/given to me by Mr John Edward Taylor about 1886.

This portraitback to top

The origins of this drawing were given to Scharf in a letter from Sir John Gilbert himself, written shortly after a similar drawing had been shown to the NPG by Graves & Co of Pall Mall in October 1882. Gilbert described how as a young man he had had a picture in the British Institution hanging opposite one by Turner who had spent most of the day driving white paint into the hollows of his canvas: 'Standing sideways of the canvas, I saw that the sun was a lump of white standing out like the boss of a shield … But here was an opportunity to get a sketch of the painter, and I seized it, making a hurried pencil sketch. From that sketch I made a drawing on wood, which was well engraved by W. J. Linton ... I have from time to time searched diligently for the pencil drawing made in the gallery, but unsuccessfully. Whether someone laid unlawful hands on it I know not; at all events, it has long since disappeared. My sketch was very slight ... has been copied over and over again and engraved.' A few days later Gilbert saw the drawing at Graves and declared it to be 'a precise copy of Linton's woodcut with the exception of some alterations in the face' (Lionel Cust, 'The Portraits of Turner' in The Magazine of Art, 1895, pp 248-9). Scharf, who contributed pictures to the British Institution in 1846, believed Gilbert's drawing to have been done then and Turner's picture to be 'Queen Mab's Cave'. Thornbury (Walter Thornbury, Life of Turner, 1862, p 393) believed it to have been 1841 and the picture therefore either 'Snowstorm' or 'Blue Light'. However Gilbert's detailed description: 'a Claud-like composition - a bay or harbour - classic buildings on the banks on either side, and in the centre the sun - a mass of red and yellow of all varieties', indicates the subject to have been 'Regulus' (Tate Gallery 519), painted in 1828 but reworked at the British Institution in 1837 (Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, Paintings of J. M. W. Turner, 1977, no.294). This effectively pinpoints the original drawing to 1837 when Gilbert was aged 20 and exhibiting his first pictures in public.
Gilbert declared his 'hurried pencil sketch' to have been lost, as is also his 'drawing on wood'. Linton's woodcut is almost certainly the basis for the copies 'made over and over again'. NPG 5566 is clearly one of these copies. Another is in the Witt collection, a pencil drawing lightly outlined in red chalk, bought from Colnaghi (no date). A third copy is at Harewood inscribed: Mr Turner by Henry Edridge taken Nov.4: 1819 but not by Edridge who died in 1821; this drawing belonged to John Edward Taylor who also owned NPG 5566. A fourth, now in a private collection Yorkshire, was at Christie's, 1 August 1957 (78) bought Agnew, pencil and watercolour inscribed: J. M. W. Turner in neat letters. Crudely invented variants in oil are also known: Tate Gallery (2728) attributed to J. T. Smith, and Fitzwilliam Museum (2729) called British School c.1852 both have Turner's 'Mouth of the Humber' on the easel, blatantly lifted from the two-page spread in The Illustrated Exhibitor and Magazine of Art. Another oil variant, with the 'Fighting Temeraire' on the easel, was at Sotheby's 29 February 1984 (39).

Physical descriptionback to top

Nearly whole-length standing to right holding palette and brush, cleaning rag stuffed into tailcoat pocket, picture on an easel to right with pots of paint and another cleaning rag.

Provenanceback to top

John Edward Taylor (1830-1905, Turner collector and chairman of The Manchester Guardian); Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), his niece Mrs Clifford Musgrave and given by her in memory of her husband, 1983.

Reproductionsback to top

(Of the original)
Woodcut by W. J. Linton in Cassell's Illustrated Exhibitor and Magazine of Art, 1852, I, p 216; etching by AB (monogram) published by E. Dexter 1875.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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