Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Tower against a Dawn Sky, Possibly in the Italian Campagna

c.1825–7

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 302 x 482 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25448
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 325

Catalogue entry

Although Finberg described this as a sunset scene,1 the relatively muted colour behind the silhouetted tower and hills seems to evoke a dawn effect, as Ian Warrell has suggested.2 Noting the 1825 watermark, Andrew Wilton proposed a link to the ‘Little Liber’ compositions around that time,3 with their concern for strong effects of light and shade (see the ‘Little Liber c.1823–6’ section of the present catalogue), while Warrell has noted that the ‘silhouetting of the tower ... points to the underlying habit in Turner’s compositions to seek the contre-jour effect to heighten the contrast with the skies depicted’.4
Gerald Wilkinson remarked: ‘Not much of a hill and not much of a sunset. This drawing is like, but much larger than, some of the sketches for vignettes.’5 Eric Shanes developed this idea, comparing the scene to that of a back-lit classical fragment in the bleak setting of The Campagna of Rome,6 a vignette watercolour of about 1826–7 (Tate D27678; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 161),7 engraved for the 1830 edition of Samuel Rogers’s Poems (Tate impressions: T04655–T04656), informed by Turner’s travels in the area in 1819.
1
See Finberg 1909, II, p.839.
2
Warrell 1991, p.39.
3
See Wilton 1975, pp.73–4, and Warrell 1991, p.39.
4
Warrell 1991, p.39.
5
Wilkinson 1975, p.116.
6
See Shanes 1997, pp.98, 99.
7
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.439 no.1168, reproduced.
Technical notes:
There is a red stroke of watercolour at the bottom centre, which may be a colour test, albeit for one not apparently used in the composition. The centre of the sheet has darkened from prolonged display, when its wide margins were protected by a mount, the composition being cropped by pencil lines all around it.1
1
See Warrell 1991, p.39.
Verso:
Blank

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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