Joseph Mallord William Turner

Classical Ruins on a Rocky Shore with Distant Mountains


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 301 x 559 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 428

Catalogue entry

Finberg called this large, faint drawing a ‘Study for one of the Bible Illustrations’,1 presumably thinking of the series of twenty-six watercolour designs Turner produced between about 1832 and 1835 from topographical drawings by other artists, to be engraved for Edward and William Finden’s Landscape Illustrations of the Bible, later issued by John Murray in The Biblical Keepsake2 (Tate impressions: T05152–T05175, T06653–T06654).
The composition shows a single tall column and a smaller vertical feature to its left, standing on a barren promontory at the centre, bisecting the ruled horizon, above which mountains arise on the far side of a lake or bay. The design is defined by ruled lines within an area of 250 x 420 mm, considerably larger than the approximately 120–140 x 200 mm dimensions of the Finden watercolours, and a direct link to the series is perhaps unlikely.
The subject may be the coast of the Mediterranean or Aegean, with the column(s) as the last traces of a larger classical building. Compare the settings of the more substantial remains in watercolours of the ruined Temple of Minerva, Cape Colonna (Sunium) (Townley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley),3 engraved in 1832 for Finden’s Landscape Illustrations to Byron (Tate impression: T06178), and The Temple of Poseidon at Sunium (Cape Colonna) of about 1834 (Tate T07561).4 See also the earlier pair of paintings, The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius Restored and View of the Temple of Jupiter Panellenius in the Island of Aegina, with the Greek National Dance of the Romaika, exhibited in 1816 (private collections).5
Very similar in its size and technique to the present work, Tate D34926 (Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 429) shows a related composition, and the two were perhaps ideas for a pair of thematically linked watercolours or paintings. Finberg placed them somewhat arbitrarily in a large ‘Miscellaneous: black and white’ category dated to about 1830–41;6 the range has modified slightly here to cover the 1830s in case definite connections to Turner’s illustrative work of that period comes to light.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1149.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.447–50 nos.1236–1263, most reproduced (various collections).
Ibid., p.445 no.1213, reproduced.
Ibid., p.356 no.497.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.97–8 no.133, pl.138 (colour), and pp.98–100 no.134, pl.139 (colour).
Finberg 1909, II, p.1149.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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