after Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ancient Rome


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

After Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Line engraving on paper
Image: 199 x 274 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

[from] The Turner Gallery pub.1859–75 [T05194-T05196; complete]

Two etchings and one line-engraving, comprising three subjects out of a total of sixty-seven; various papers and sizes
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1988
Prov: ...; N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd, from whom bt by Tate Gallery (earlier provenance given in individual entries where known)
Lit: Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.79–80; Herrmann 1990, pp.244–5

The Turner Gallery, which first appeared several years after the artist's death, was a series of engravings after some of Turner's most popular images, comprising reproductions of a broad selection of oil paintings and a few watercolours. Many of the plates, particularly those after Turner's oil paintings, were new and were thus unsupervised by Turner's hand; others had been executed for earlier series and were reworked for the Turner Gallery.

The series first appeared in parts, published by James S. Virtue, between 1859 and 1861. The plates were accompanied by texts written by Ralph Nicholson Wornum, the Keeper of the National Gallery at that date. Originally there were sixty plates, most of which were engraved on steel by engravers who had been active in producing prints after Turner's work while he was alive. Thus the standard remained high and Rawlinson concedes that in the original edition ‘many plates are of great beauty’ (II 1913, p.356).

The Turner Gallery reappeared in numerous and confusing guises throughout the rest of the century. It was reissued in 1875 by Chatto and Windus, also with a text by Wornum. Rawlinson states that the plates for this edition was also of a high standard since, according to the publishers, ‘the impressions were for the first time printed from the original plates, electrotypes having been used for the Original Edition’. Some of the plates from the original edition were replaced by others which had previously appeared in the Art Journal or the Vernon Gallery. Rawlinson states, however, that the total number of sixty plates remained the same, although there were, in fact, sixty-one plates if the frontispiece of Turner's ‘Self-Portrait’ is included.

Rawlinson is particularly scathing about the later editions: ‘Unfortunately the publishers continued to print and reprint impressions long after they had lost their beauty. They added moreover to the original sixty subjects about sixty others ... the copper-plates of which had been worn out many years before ... Some of these worthless “Reprint” editions appeared as recently as 1880–90’. One later edition of about 1878(?) was published in three volumes by Virtue and contained 120 plates, the additional ones being reprints of engravings after watercolours made for the Southern Coast (see T04370-T04427), History of Richmondshire (see T04439-T04484) and the Ports of England (see T04822-T04837). The text for this edition was provided by W. Cosmo Monkhouse.

Rawlinson only lists sixty-seven plates for the series (his nos.690–750a), omitting those added in the later editions. Unlike other series, he does not catalogue the individual prints in full or give details of their states, but simply lists the various issues of The Turner Gallery, thus making it difficult to ascertain the exact state of an impression. However, as two of the plates in this group are preliminary etchings and the other is a touched proof of a plate that did not appear in the 1875 edition, it is clear that all three impressions must have been intended for the original edition of 1859–61.

Neither of the engravers of these three plates, James Charles Armytage (1802–97) and Arthur Willmore (1814–88), belonged to the ‘Turner School’ of engravers. Armytage, although a prolific engraver of other artists' work, had only produced four plates after Turner during the artist's lifetime, while the three plates executed for the series by Arthur Willmore, brother of James Tibbetts Willmore (see T05189), were the first and only ones that he engraved after Turner.

T05196 Ancient Rome engr. A. Willmore

Line-engraving 199 × 274 (7 13/16 × 10 13/16) touched in pencil on India paper laid on wove paper 443 × 594 (17 7/16 × 23 3/8); plate-mark 340 × 469 (13 3/8 × 28 1/2)

Inscribed in pencil, perhaps by James Baker Pyne, to the right of image: 'Mr. Willmore. | Dear Sir. | RA. No.2 Is a feature which most persons take for a Dome, instead of a Rotunda. It is so vague in | Turner's picture and the Copy that it would be impossible to determine as to the which. | I would therefore Burnish or otherwise get rid of the whole of the detail under my [...] | Immediately you throw away the [...] here you throw away also the grandeur, | and become less like Turner, whose object was always, and must have been here in particular, vastness. As a House it is vast. Indeed so vast, as to be impracticable | in masonry. But this [...] Turner aspirations for the ultimate [...] | You must not imagine this to be laying too great a stress on a trifle. It is only | a trifle perspectively. | 3. It will be necessary to burnish up all the dark lines indicated in | this manner.| 4. These lines intended for oar blades are too black. I would suggest | this being burnished nearly out, and then substituted by about | three lines by the dry point instead of one etched. or 5 instead | of two 7 instead of 4. and so on, [...] the [? depth] is | slight and soft, and the form of greater breadth. | The principal blemish at present is altogether in the mode of | etching the detail. which instead of being done with a | narrow black line, should be accomplished by a <broad> | more or less broad and soft one. | This simple mode alone (at starting with the etching) would | constitute in the finish, all the difference between a coarse | apology for Turner, and an elaborate and classical | work. And (taking into consideration the time rep[...] | spent in following but a difficult retouching) would be | done in much less time. | 5. These lights must come down as touched, with some | extension of the depth in the wheel, and the lower one to the right also. | 6. This light also should be lowered. | 5. Slightly too dark. | 7. Back down the corner of this [...] to mark its junction | with the water, [? JB Pyne] 16. April 1860’

Prov: Arthur Willmore
Lit: Rawlinson II 1913, no.738a, touched engraver's proof (not listed)

Engraver's proof of plate published 1859–61. Original oil painting: Tate Gallery, N00523 (Butlin and Joll 1984, no.378). In addition to the comments to the engraver inscribed above, the impression is inscribed in pencil on the India paper below the image ‘Second proof’, and below the plate-mark ‘1860–1863’, ‘P378’, and ‘1839’ (the date of the original oil painting).

‘Ancient Rome’ is unusual in being the only touched proof in the Tate's holdings of prints after Turner to be touched and annotated by someone other than Turner. Pencil corrections appear on the waterwheels and on the right-hand jetty and figures, with a few touches to the figures on the left-hand side.

The identity of the person responsible for these corrections and comments is difficult to establish since the signature is unclear; it appears to be ‘J.B. Pyne’. The British Museum holds a touched proof of ‘Venice from the Canal of the Guidecca’ (Rawlinson II 1913, no.743), inscribed by the same hand, as well as a letter concerned with corrections to the plate of ‘Apollo and Daphne’ (ibid., no.734), signed ‘[? J. Pyne] May 3rd 1860’; it is presumably addressed to the plate's engraver, Edward Brandard. A possible identification of the author is James Baker Pyne (1800–70), a follower of Turner and respected artist in his time, whose knowledge of Turner was perhaps considered by the publishers to be a suitable qualification for correcting the proofs. The engraver John Pye has been proved not to be the author, on the evidence of his handwriting.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996