Prose Descriptions of Paintings

Just as Victorian artists often illustrated works of literature, so writers described paintings in ways so detailed and evocative they almost become prose poems. Two examples drawn from The Norton Anthology of English Literature are John Ruskin's description of J. M. W. Turner's painting The Slave Ship (NAEL 8, 2.1321–22) and Walter Pater's description of Leonardo Da Vinci's La Gioconda (NAEL 8, 2.1510–11) or the Mona Lisa. The Turner painting, whose full title is Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying: Typhoon Coming On (1840), was given to Ruskin as a New Year's present by his father in 1844. It hung in the Ruskin household for a number of years until Ruskin decided to sell it because he found it "too painful to live with." W. B. Yeats, whose father was a painter, printed Pater's description of the Mona Lisa in poetic form as the first selection in his edition of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936).

[Click on image to enlarge] [Click on image to enlarge]

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback   :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page