It was December, 1858. J.M.W. Turner had been dead seven years. To protect the painter’s reputation among the Victorians, John Ruskin and Ralph Nicholson Wornum furtively incinerated Turner’s body of erotica on a secret bier. We know of this singular cremation since Ruskin himself admitted to the deed in writing. And thus this tale was believed for nearly a century and a half for, after all, why would anyone have reason to doubt?
It takes quite a while for news to seep into my benighted cloister, so I didn’t learn until recently that, in 2003, a gentleman named Ian Warrell apparently unearthed most, if not all, the works mentioned above, all unburned and rising from their fictitious ashes like some phoenix before his eyes. The answers as to why Ruskin crafted his elaborate fabrication and how Turner’s erotic works were rediscovered can be found in the January 13, 2005 “New York Times” article, “A Censorship Story Goes Up in Smoke; No Bonfire Devoured J.M.W. Turner’s Erotica” by Sarah Lyall. Now I mention all this not only to show how woefully behind I am on current events but to pay an apology to Ruskin’s memory since I railed against his alleged fiery mischief in another posting. I was so happy to find out I was deceived that I scrawled this caricature of Turner’s self-portrait. It’s supposed to show my wild joy in finding Turner’s works survive and relieved amusement that Ruskin’s deed was merely a long-lived deception.