The Turner Medal as executed: reverse and obverse
After Leonard Charles Wyon (1826 - 1891)
RA Collection: Art
Following years of deliberation over the will of J. M. W. Turner, the Royal Academy eventually received a sum of £20,000 from his estate in 1856. The Academy's Council Minutes record that it was agreed the funds should be used "in conformity with the will of the late J. M. W. Turner" for "a medal to be called 'Turner's medal' equal in value to the Gold medal now given by the Royal Academy be awarded to the best landscape painting at the Biennial Distribution".
Producing a medal for this award, however, proved to be a lengthy process. Initially, in November 1856, the Council resolved that the design for the medal should be decided by a public competition, with prizes awarded for the best and the second best designs. However, in February the following year, they revoked their original decision as it was deemed "on many accounts objectionable". Instead the Council requested the Academician and sculptor E. H. Baily be invited to provide a design for the medal.
However, despite producing two different models, E. H. Baily's designs were not considered good enough by Council. On 3rd December 1857 RA minutes record that William Dyce had put forward an alternative design for the obverse, with a portrait of Turner shown in profile. This design being accepted, all Academicians were then invited to produce a design for the reverse of the medal which, it was suggested, should be a "composition having reference to the purpose of the premium...It is suggested that the Design need not be elaborate, but should suffice to convey the intended idea". As only one drawing was received in response to this request, William Mulready, William Dyce and Daniel Maclise were subsequently asked to submit their ideas for the medal.
Maclise's design was selected and he was at work on the finished designs by November 1859. Leonard Wyon's impression of the medal was approved in December and struck shortly afterwards. The Royal Academy collection also includes an engraving of the design by Wyon, Dyce's finished design for the reverse of the medal and a related sketch by Mulready. It is possible that Maclise's chosen design for the obverse is based on the original drawing of Turner by Dyce.
On 11th January 1860, the Council of the Royal Academy agreed to offer Maclise some financial reward for his work but he refused to accept. Instead, he was presented with a silver vase after a design by Cellini on 6th March 1860. Maclise later formally presented his designs for the medal to the Royal Academy. He wrote that he was giving the drawing to the institution "because there is a kind of fitness in the drawings from which the medal was engraved being in possession of the Academy".
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