J.M.W. Turner on Varnishing Day by William Parrott (1813-1869). Oil on panel. Frame: 450 x 437 mm x 100 mm (sight size: 250 mm. x 242 mm.) The Museums Sheffield website gives the year as c. 1840, but the frame has 1846, and other sources (including Harry Guest, quoted below), generally accept that. Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield, accession Number: CGSG00741. On loan to the "John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing" exhibition at Two Temple Place, London, 26 January - 22 April 2019. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The painting in its frame.

Guest explains that Parrott "caught Turner on Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy in 1846 in the act of touching up one of his submissions at the very last minute...," and suggests that he was doing so "not only because his fascination with his own technique urged him into continuous nervy improvements but also because he knew that the added brightness (shown in Parrott's oil by the superior glow in Tumer’s picture to the other works on display) would make his contribution stand out." Quite apart from bringing out Turner's foibles, Parrott has provided us with a rare picture of the artist in his later years: "Short, stocky, dressed shabbily in black with a top hat still perched on his head, his untidy umbrella propped nonchalantly against a chair, Turner displays the unconcerned workaday concentration of the true genius, indifferent to outward appearances" (Guest 148).

According to the Museums Sheffield website, there is a suggestion that Turner is shown working on the painting entitled Mercury and Argus, which would certainly date it to c. 1840 (it was engraved in 1841). At any rate, whatever the year, the presence of this precious portrait in Ruskin's Guild of St George Collection reminds us of the great regard in which Ruskin held Turner, and of how warmly he championed him and helped to secure his reputation.

Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer or source, and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on both the images to enlarge them.]

Related Material


Guest, Harry. The Artist on the Artist. Exeter: Elm Bank Publications, 2000.

"Turner on Varnishing Day." Museums Sheffield. Web. 9 February 2019.

Created 9 February 2019