- Museum number
Portrait of J M W Turner in the Print Room in the British Museum; half-length seated at desk to right looking at drawing
Watercolour over graphite
- Production date
Height: 222 millimetres
Width: 182 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no. 108:
As Keeper of Prints and Drawings, J.T. Smith fought a constant battle with damp in the top floor of the Townley Gallery where the collection was housed. Eventually in 1828 he was able to move to a new Print Room in the south-east corner of the new Smirke building, next to the new King's Library. Just the year before, an annual purchase grant had been established for the department and Smith used it to build up a collection of prints after Reynolds. He had already overseen the acquisitions of several important collections of drawings and prints when the Richard Payne Knight Bequest arrived in 1824. He reported that he himself 'had the pleasure of purchasing drawings for Sir Joshua Reynolds; he also had the pleasing task of arranging Mr Nathaniel Hone's collection and has made catalogues of the following cabinets of drawings, viz. Mr Woodhouse's, Mr President West's, and Mr Cosway's'. His greatest disappointment, and indeed the nation's, was his lack of success in his attempt in 1830 to acquire Thomas Lawrence's collection, as the Treasury refused the Museum's request for a special grant of £18,000.
Smith died in 1833. His gossip-filled book about the British art scene, 'Nollekens and his times' published in 1828, was followed twelve years after his death by his famous autobiographical 'A book for a rainy day' (1845). They record the general convivial atmosphere of the Print Room when he presided over it, pouring forth an 'inexhaustible fund of stories and recollections…with the utmost solemnity to the admiration of his auditors' (Griffiths, 537). The Trustees stipulated six visitors in the room at one time and Smith took this as a licence to admit who he wished; clearly Turner was welcome, but in 1826 he refused Benjamin Robert Haydon admission when there was only one person in the room and he later observed Smith turning away a foreigner with great incivility.
In the 1820s, Turner's studio and gallery were in Queen Anne Street, a brisk walk from the British Museum. He might have been a regular visitor when Smith made this drawing of him in the Print Room in the late 1820s. He is shown looking at a street scene on a loose print or drawing and it has been said that Smith used this portrait to show the Trustees the vulnerability of the collection (Walker 2001, p. 234). Claude's Liber Veritatis had appeared in an engraved series published by Boydell in the 1770s (based on the drawings then at Chatsworth which did not come to the BM until 1956); around 1826 Turner had made his own mezzotint series known as the 'Little Liber Studiorum'. Immersing himself in the Print Room in the genius of Claude and other artists he so admired would have been an intensely pleasurable experience for Turner. Andrew Wilton has described this as 'one of the most revealingly intimate of all portraits of the artist.'
SELECTED LITERATURE: LB 1; Wilton 1987, p.137, fig. 190; Griffiths 1994, pp. 537-9; Walker, in 'Oxford Companion to Turner', 2001, pp. 233-6:
The portrait is reproduced and discussed by Ian Warrell in his essay '"Stolen hints from celebrated Pictures": Turner as Copyist, Collector and Consumer of Old Master Paintings" in exh. Tate Britain 'Turner and the Masters', ed. David Solkin, 2009, p. 41
There is another version of this drawing, with mountains in the background (Indianapolis); it was fromthe collection of John Gibbons, RA, and was exhibited at the centenary exhibition at Agnew's in 1951, no.124.
The drawing was lithographed by Louis Haghe. A 'lettered' impression is placed British XIXc Unmounted Roy (1886-9-3-9), unlettered proof (1885,1212.135).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964 Jan-Feb, Arts Council Gallery, 'Ruskin and his circle', no. 91
1969, BM, 'Royal Academy Draughtsmen 1769-1969', no.33
1974 July-Dec, BM, Portrait Drawings, no.187
1982, Georgia MA, 'Turner', P.2
1982, San Francisco MA, 'Turner'
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 108
2009 March-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait', no.108
2012 March-June, London, National Gallery, Turner Inspired...
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Edward Cheney; purchased at his sale, on commission from BM by Colnaghi's
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number