The subject of this work is a story from the Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil. The hero Aeneas wishes to visit the Underworld to speak with his father. The Cumeaen Sibyl (priestess) agrees to guide him. The setting of this painting is a view of Lake Avernus in Italy. The lake and its surrounding wood were believed to have lead to the Underworld. Painted in 1798, this is probably one of Turner’s first attempts to depict a mythical subject in a classical landscape with oils.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus c.1798
76.5 x 98.4 cm
Date of work
Oil paint on canvas 76.5 x 98.4 cm
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London; he remained a Londoner and kept a Cockney accent all his life despite dominating British landscape painting throughout the first half of the 19th century. He established a reputation in the Royal Academy, first as a topographical watercolourist and then within a few years as a painter of sublime and historical landscapes. From the mid-1790s he settled on the routine he maintained for much of his life: touring in summer and working in the studio in the winter months. He opened his own gallery and had many patrons and admirers as well as detractors. After his death a large body of his works in oil and watercolour was given to the British nation, with many on show at Tate Britain.