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Thomson's Aeolian Harp

Turner, Joseph Mallord William
Europe, United Kingdom, England

First floor: 18th Century

oil paint
166.7 x 306 cm

More Details

Thomson's Aeolian Harp 1809
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Oil on canvas

This painting is a radical treatment
of a well-established and popular subject:
the River Thames seen from Richmond Hill.
Through literary, classical and old-master references
it links the English landscape with the Grand Style.

The work commemorates the poet James Thomson,
who lived near Turner's vantage point
and published An Ode on Aeolus's Harp in 1748.
In classical mythology Aeolus was the king of storms:
an Aeolian harp plays when the wind blows its strings.

The Three Graces dance beside the harp,
which is also being adorned by the Four Seasons
- the subject of Thomson's best-known poem.
Classical ruins allude to another poet, Alexander Pope,
whose famous Twickenham villa was destroyed in 1807.

The painting is strongly influenced by Claude Lorrain,
a seventeenth-century French painter of Italianate views.
His art widely informed British culture of the period
and was of particular importance to Turner.

Allocated to Manchester by HM Treasury in lieu of Capital Transfer
Tax from the Trustees of the Walter Morrison Picture Settlement 1979.7