[from] Works Painted in Rome, 1828–9
TURNER went to Rome for the second time in 1828, leaving England in August and arriving in October; he stayed until early January 1829, and was back in England in February. Sir Charles Eastlake told Thornbury that they both stayed at 12 Piazza Mignanelli and that Turner ‘painted there the “View of Orvieto”, the “Regulus” and the “Medea” [Nos. 292 [N00511], 294 [N00519] and 293 [N00513]]. Those pictures were exhibited in Rome in some rooms which Turner subsequently occupied at the Quattro Fontane. The foreign artists who went to see them could make nothing of them’. However, Eastlake reported a more mixed reception in a letter to England in February 1829: ‘More than a thousand persons went to see his works when exhibited, so you can imagine how astonished, enraged or delighted the different schools of artists were, at seeing things with methods so new, so daring and excellences so unequivocal. The angry critics have, I believe, talked most, and it is possible you may hear of general severity of judgment, but many did justice, and many more were fain to admire what they confessed they dared not imitate.’
Turner advertised in the Diario di Roma for 17 December 1828 that he was to exhibit ‘due Paesaggi’ for a week at the Palazzo Trulli. These John Gage identifies as Orvieto and Regulus, though it is known that Medea was on view on 17 December. In a letter of February 1829, Eastlake confirmed that Turner had exhibited these three works, as well as having begun ‘eight or ten pictures’ (for a later letter by Eastlake, see No. 328a).
A number of paintings from the Turner Bequest are identical in their coarse canvas, the form of the original stretcher, and the way in which the canvas was fastened to the stretcher (with upholsterer's sprigs) to Orvieto and Medea (Regulus is on a similar canvas, but has lost its original stretcher and form of attachment). These are the three figure subjects, Nos. 296 [N05498], 297 [N05517] and 298 [N05509], and Southern Landscape, No. 299 [N05510]. Other works probably from the group are Nos. 300 [N05506] and 301 [N05473]. Other candidates for works begun in Rome are the composition sketches on a similar though even rather coarser canvas, Nos. 302–17; see p. 160. These sketches, and one of the larger unfinished pictures (No. 300), shows signs of having been rolled, presumably for ease of despatch to London. Both types of coarse canvas would seem to be Italian in origin, presumably purchased in Rome. Probably also from this trip are the smaller sketches on millboard. Nos. 318–27.
Turner had in fact written from Paris on II August 1828 to Charles Eastlake, who was already in Rome, asking him to secure one or two canvases, 59 1/4 × 98 1/2 in., so that he could begin straight away on a landscape for Lord Egremont. This is generally held to be Palestrina (No. 295 [N06283]), which measures 55 1/4 × 98 in. but is in fact on a fine canvas.
Turner himself reported his progress in a letter to Sir Francis Chantrey of 6 November 1828: ‘I have confined myself to the painting department...and having finished one, am about the second, and getting on with Lord E's [presumably Palestrina], which I began the very first touch at Rome; but as folk here talked that I would show them not, I finished a small three feet four to stop their gabbling’; this last was presumably Orvieto.
Eastlake's account in Thornbury goes on, ‘When those same works were packed to be sent to England, I advised him to have the cover covered with waxed cloth, as the pictures without it might be exposed to wet. Turner thanked me, and said the advice was important; “for”, he added, “if any wet gets to them, they will be destroyed.” This indicates his practice of preparing his pictures with a kind of tempera, a method which, before the surface was varnished, was not waterproof [in fact analysis has not revealed any tempera, though Turner did quite often use watercolour on his oils and in at least one case, No. 300, a picture apparently from this group seems to have suffered losses to its water-soluble glazes]. The pictures referred to were in fact not finished; nor could any of his exhibited pictures be said to be finished till he had worked on them when they were on the walls of the Royal Academy’. This is supported by the review of Orvieto in the Morning Chronicle for 3 May 1830 quoted under Pilate washing his Hands (No. 332 [N00510]). Although Turner had hoped that his Rome paintings would reach London in time for the 1829 Exhibition, there were shipping delays and Orvieto and Palestrina were not exhibited until 1830, nor Medea until 1831; Regulus was not exhibited until 1837.
Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 221; 1877, p. 100; Finberg 1961, pp. 307–11; Gage 1968, pp. 679–80; Gage 1980, pp. 118–20, 125, 127, 132.
Nos. 302–17 Roman Sketches, 1828
THE first seven of these oil sketches (Nos. 302–8) were originally on one large canvas; the compositions were separated in 1913–14. The nine others are similar in style, technique and type of canvas but are not recorded as having been originally joined. However, this second group of sketches shares with the first the peculiarity of having been tacked to some sort of stretcher or support from the front, Turner having gone over the tacks with paint in the process of painting each composition. This suggests that in both cases a large piece of canvas was remounted on a relatively small support each time Turner wanted to paint a new sketch. Both groups are marked by a vertical craquelure, the result of rolling. The 1856 Schedule of the Turner Bequest lists under nos. 203–18 four ‘Roll[s] containing 4 subjects’, only two of which are accounted for by the Cowes sketches, one of which in fact contained five compositions (see p. 159); the other two rolls could have been that bearing Nos. 302–8 together with one containing the other Roman sketches.
Those subjects that can be identified are Italian and the first sketch was used for the large picture of Ulysses and Polyphemus exhibited at the R.A. in 1829 (No. 330 [N00508]). It therefore seems likely that they were done in Italy during Turner's second visit in 1828–9, the use of large rolls of canvas being presumably for ease of transport as seems to have been the case with the Cowes sketches. However, the canvas is not identical with that of the pictures that were exhibited by Turner in Rome (see Nos. 292–4 [N00511, N00513, N00519]), nor did those pictures reach London, having been sent by sea, until after the opening of the 1829 R.A. Exhibition, but Turner would not have needed the Polyphemus sketch directly in front of him to paint the large picture. Alternatively, whereas Nos. 292–4 [N00511, N00513, N00519], and also Nos. 296–9 [N05498, N005517, N05509, N05510] and 301 [N05473], seem to have been stretched in Rome and were probably all sent back by sea, Turner could have taken the rolled canvases back with him by land.
Unlike the Cowes sketches, which seem to have been the direct result of specific experiences even if not actually painted on the spot, these works are essays in composition; even those based on actual landscapes are of places already known to Turner from his travels in Italy in 1819 if not from pictures by other artists: both Lake Nemi and Tivoli (for which see Nos. 44 [N05512] and 545 [N05538]) had been painted by Wilson. They are studies in broad areas of strongly contrasted tones of flatly applied colour, occasionally enlivened, as in the case of Lake Nemi, by a flurry of heavy impasto. The subjects range from recognisable Italian landscapes, through the Polyphemus sketch which uses landscape motives based on what Turner could have seen in Italy, to Claudian seaports which depend entirely on the work of another artist. Differing in size one from the other, and not adhering to any of the standard sizes normally used by Turner, these works are definitely sketches rather than ‘unfinished’ paintings which could have been carried further.
Lit. MacColl 1920, p. 42; Davies 1946, p. 189; Kitson 1983, p. 13.
306. [N02991] Overlooking the Coast, with Classical Building 1828
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (2991)
Canvas, irregular, approx. 23 1/2 × 33 5/8 (60·5 × 84·5)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? one of 203–18; see p. 176); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.
Less resolved than the other sketches in the group, in this case justifying the term ‘unfinished’. The composition, with its relatively large, classical portico on the right helping to frame a panoramic view over a distant landscape, is unusual for Turner.
There are tack holes along the top and bottom edges.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984