For the general public

Turner Images 

Turner’s poetry and other texts, including the complete titles  he gives to his paintings, are often important for understanding fully the meanings of the latter

Yet they are omitted from most of the  captions to his paintings on the Tate website.

Here you may judge for yourselves

Let us begin  with   two early important Carthage pictures, of 1815 and 1817 (are not the first two ? )


 Dido building Carthage,  exh. 1815,  BJ 131, National Gallery, London.                       This is the title to be found on the National gallery website

We will restore Turner’s full   title :  Dido building Carthage, or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, as to found in  the RA catalogue of 1815    

This shows we are in   the domain on Empire building, not simply city building

Though it may be argued that Turner wanted to emphasize  here  the painterly  Claudian aspect of  the work rather than the historical aspect.

But such is the complete title


The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ... exhibited 1817 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

BJ  THE DECLINE OF THE CARTHAGINIAN EMPIRE                                                                   EMPIRE,  Rome being determined on the overthrow of her hated rival demanded from her such terms  as might either force her into  war or ruin her by compliance :  the enervated Carthagians,  in their anxiety for peace, consented  to give up even their arms  and their children, exh. 1817  

(Did they not fight Rome to the bitter end ? Check ) 

. . . At Hope’s delusive smile,                                                                                                The chieftain’s safety and the mother’s pride,                                                                        Were to the  insidious  conqu’or’s grasp resign’d;                                                            While o’er the western  wave th’ensanguin’d sun                                                               In gathering haze a stormy signal spread,                                                                            And set portentous.

Though this poem is not said by Turner to be  from the Fallacies  of Hope ms, the conception of these pictures is in the same spirit, it seem to us.

The Tate website, which omitted the greater part  of Turner’s title, and Turner’s poetry from the RA catalogue, nevertheless is correct to some extent here for once  and opens the possibility that   there may be a   moral to this  picture

This is we find the on the Tate website :                                                                                  “Turner saw the rise and fall of once-great empires as a historical inevitability, confirmed by the fall of Napoleon, but threatening to overtake the victorious British.”

This is all the more to the merit of the Tate that they may explicit what is only implicit in Turner

Nevertheless Turner’s poetry shows that what is at stake is an inner human failing, not historical inevitability

As Butlin and Joel mention, John Gage had allready stressed this fact in an article in 1974 had pointed out that such comparisons of the rise and fall of empires and their application to the contemporary situation were a commonplace in the 18th and 19th as in Goldsmith’s ….and Gibbon’s ….    (where in each ? )



Deux autres tableaux importants de Turner à cet égard sont :

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps exhibited 1812 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

126 Snowstorm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing  the Alps, 1812

Sur le site de la Tate gallery, le poème de Turner est supprimé et il y a simplement le commentaire suivant :

« For Turner, the figure of Hannibal – here leading his armies to attack Italy – had powerful associations with Napoleon. These connections had been explicitly drawn in an official portrait of Napoleon about to lead his own armies across the St Bernard Pass. Snow Storm, however, does not celebrate the power of the individual, but expresses man’s vulnerability in the face of nature’s overwhelming force. Hannibal himself is not pictured, and attention is focused upon victims of the conflict, the struggling soldiers. »

Le poème de Turner, described for the first time as coming from his ‘MS. P(oem?) Fallacies of Hope’, est le suivant :

“Craft, treachery and fraud – Salassian force,                                                               Hung  on the fainting rear ! Then Plunder seized                                                                  The victor and the captive,- Sagentum’s spoil                                                                Alike became their prey; still the chief advanced                                                                   Look’d on the sun with hope; – low,  broad,  and wan;                                               While the fierce archer of the downward year                                                              Stains Italy’s blanched barrier with storms                                                                          In vain each pass, ensanguin’d deep with dead,                                                               Or rocky fragments, wide destruction rolled,                                                                    Still on Campania’s fertile plains — he thought,                                                                      But the loud breeze sob’d, “Capua’s joys beware ! ”

Il est clair par ce poème et le contexte historique   que le thème principal du tableau n’est pas la vulnérabilité de l’homme face a la  Nature. Hannibal a  franchi avec succès les Alpes, mais son entreprise de l’invasion de l’Italie et la conquête de Rome, le grand rival de Carthage,  a été compromis et a finalement échoué, en partie, en tout état de cause, aux excès commis par son armée à Capoue, d’où son ramollissement, et son échec final.

Bel exemple des Illusions de l’Espoir


Caligula's Palace and Bridge exhibited 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

15/4 BJ 337 Caligula’s Palace and Bridge exhibited 1831

What now remains of all the mighty bridge                                                                                   Which made the Lacrine lake another pool                                                                       Caligula, but mighty fragments  left






Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - Italy exhibited 1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

342 Child Harold’s Pilgrimage – Italy


It might be useful to have in mind also The first two lines of this stanza which are :

‘Commonwealth of Kings….

Add music of ….Berlioz ? J?




Another important picture is

Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exhibited 1839 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Ancient Rome : Agrippina landing with the Ashes of Germanicus. The Triumphal Bridge and Palace of the Caesars restored   exh 1839, BJ 378,  Exhibited  with the following lines

“_________The clear stream                                                                                                      Aye, -the yellow Tiber glimmers in her beam,                                                               Even while the sun  is setting”

There is a long commentary on this painting on the in the introductory  video to  the Turner Collection in the Clore Gallery  on the Tate website, at  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/display/turner-collection, by David Blaney Browne, at 1 minute and 45 seconds :

“(1.51)  This painting is  called Ancient Rome, Agrippina landing with the ashes of Germanicus  which is perhaps rather a daunting title today but the story of Agrippina was very well known to Turners’s generation     and it is all about the dedication of a widow whose husband died at Antioch possibly  poisoned possibly murdered but she was absolutely devoted to him  and she brought his ashes back to Italy not in fact to Rome as Turner shows in the picture  but to Brindisi he ‘d been reading the wrong book he’d been reading a? roman history  which told the story slightly wrong (2.35) got the place of her arrival slightly wrong but that does really not matter he’s used the picture to reconstruct the architecture  of ancient Rome.

2.44 Quite often the stories Turner is telling  are quite hard to divine (ricern)  because ?  the main interest to him is the background or the landscape or in this case the architecture (3.01)

3.07  By  the time Turner painted this  picture one of his main interest was  ?  light sunlight mist and it is wonderful to see how this great vision of the ancient city seems to be both emerging and dissolving  in the mist (3.26) end of commentary Meet 500 years of British art supported by BP »                                    There seem to us to be a lot of very misleading and questionable statements in this video

The fact that Agrippina is said to be landing in Rome and not in Brindisi is due to poetic or historical licence, not reading the wrong book, as her ultimate goal was Rome.

This is a very minor point                                                                                                      The whole  episode, as the verses of Turner, which are omitted from the Tate website,  make clear, is meant to illustrate a stage in the decline of Rome, in the spirit of Thomson’s liberty.

As Butlin and Joel : “In his verses Turner is presumably referring to this incident as a stage in the decline of Rome », in the spirit of Thomson’s Liberty. 

Agrippina was the mother Caligula and grandmother (check and check Thomson).

Indeed  Some of Turner’s  poetry may be obscure but there is a solid chore that is quite clear, and whose general meaning is expressed in title of the projected Fallacies of Hope, and the main interest is not only the background

That Turner was interested in light and sunlight and mist, (his pre impressionistic side), does not mean he was not also interested in the historical process as Lindsay puts it, as he was in his very last exhibited pictures, the late Aeneas   and Dido series.

This general estimation of Turners work  will be followed by the elimination of the greater part  of Turners poetry from the works on the Tate website  and a good deal  of the quotations from other poets or from the Bible, giving a distorted and incomplete overall idea of Turner’s work.

Another important picture in this regard is

The Prince of Orange, William III, Embarked from Holland, and Landed at Torbay, November 4th, 1688, after a Stormy Passage exhibited 1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

343 The Prince of Orange, William III, Embarked from Holland, and Landed at Torbay, November 4th, 1688, after a Stormy Passage, BJ 343

This picture was exhibited  in 1832 with a reference to ‘-” History of England” ‘  and the text  ‘The yacht in which his majesty sailed was after many changes and services, finally wrecked on the Hambourg sands, while employed in the Hull trade’

According  to like Lindsay, there is a  reference to political events in England at the time : 1832 was a year of radical agitation, insurrection ‘(at Bristol) and successful parliamentary reform

Lindsay sees here a Thomsonian inspiration. Part IV of Liberty ends with a long apostrophe to William as the man who saved England from     bigotry and oppression. Thomson stresses the storm as symbolically representing the counter-revolution. Liberty speaks :

« Immortal Nassau came. I hushed the deep                                                                 By demons roused, and bade the listed winds,                                                                   Still shifting as behoved, with various breath                                                                   Waft the deliverer  to the longing shore ». (Liberty, …) 

In the context of the struggle for the Reform Bill, Tuner’s picture of William , in the face  of the opposition of the elements  to bring about the Glorious Revolution can only have one meaning                                                                                                    …..

Lindsay suggest that here is an allegorical intent in the note added :  ‘Turner reminds of the twist that distorts men’s aims and hopes ; the triumphant ship of liberty is  wrecked in the end    as the mere instrument of trade’. Lindsay, p. 62

The Tate website omits Turner’s text and simply put forward  the following :

« This representation of an historical event contains a number of errors. William’s fleet had indeed been beaten back to base in October 1688 but on 1 November sailed in perfect weather, landing on 5 November.

Like various earlier Dutch-inspired compositions, this, too, carries a political message connected with Anglo-Dutch relations. Here, Turner criticises again British non-intervention in the Belgian revolt, which was to lead to the termination in 1839 of the United Netherlands. »

Placing he storm  between the 1 and 5th of november instead of in october  of november The storm is obviously symbolical, poetic or painterly licence so to say.

The storm is symbolical of the opposition to reform, as it already was in Thomson.

If the painting  was referring to the Anglo Dutch relations and were a criticism against British non intervention  there would  be no reason for a symbolical storm.

Moreover the Belgian revolt was perfectly legitimate

One can hardly see how Turner could be against it, and wish British intervention. There is no evidence whatsoever of this.

Butlin and Joll also make the parallel between the Glorious Revolution and the passing of the Reform Bill

They make no mention of Anglo-Dutch relations or the Belgian revolution, either in their commentary or their bibliography.

The Tate website caption continues

« In the Academy catalogue Turner added a curious note about the Prince having sailed his yacht, not a frigate – a confusion with his arrival in a yacht for his wedding to Princess Mary on 4th (!) November 1677. »

Turner’s  note is quite  clear.
This is a frequent theme in Thomson, and classical thought                                     There can be too much trade





The Sun of Venice Going to Sea exhibited 1843 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851


‘Fair shines the morn, and soft the zephyrs blow                                                                               Venezia’s fisher spreads his painted sail so gay,                                                                     Nor heeds the demon that in grim repose                                                                                  Expects his evening prey.’                                                                                                                          Fallacies of Hope M.S.

Add Ruskin comment about Turners changing poetic quote, producing sibylline result to delight of collectors of such

The Angel Standing in the Sun exhibited 1846 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851425 The Angel Standing in the Sun exhibited 1846

Keep this here ?

Add full quote of Revelation and compare to Tate

Tate omits mighty men in

Considers Judith scene as betrayal , not doing in might man

See our earlier UMTB essay

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