Joseph Mallord William Turner

Paestum

c.1823–6

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 214 x 308 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D36070
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 224

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
(see main catalogue text)
As Nicola Moorby sets out in her catalogue entries for the 1819 Naples, Paestum and Rome sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI), Paestum (Pesto in modern Italian) was the most southerly site Turner visited on his Italian tour of 1819–20, on the Tyrrhenian coast about twenty miles south-east of Salerno, where three Doric Greek temples dating from the fifth century BC stand on the plain. Turner had shown one of them, taken from an existing source, in a watercolour diagrams for his 1811 Royal Academy perspective lectures (Tate D17072; Turner Bequest CXCV 102). He made various sketches at Paestum in 1819 (Tate D15945, D15946, D15968–D15973, D15995–D15997; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 19a, 19b, 29–31a, 42a–43a). Luke Herrmann has suggested that Turner worked on the ‘Little Liber’ design soon after his return from Italy, dating the inception of the whole series rather earlier than is generally suggested.1
The temples were also the subject of a watercolour vignette of about 1826–7 (Tate D27665 CCLXXX 148),2 engraved for Samuel Rogers’s Italy (1830), again including storm clouds and lightning above a low horizon.3 However, both it and the ‘Little Liber’ design are by no means accurate transcriptions of the sketches; rather, as Cecilia Powell has observed, they imaginatively reflect ‘the theme of vast temples standing firm amid wind and storm’.4 Andrew Wilton relates John Ruskin’s idea of Turner’s association of lightning with ‘monuments of dead religion’;5 the general composition and mood have been appropriately compared with the late unpublished Liber Studiorum composition Stonehenge of about 1824 (preliminary watercolour in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).6
The present composition was engraved in mezzotint,7 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself, although the plate was apparently not one of those found in his studio after his death8 (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). The development of the design through four trial proof stages is described by Rawlinson and Dupret, who mention the present watercolour as the source,9 as had Ruskin as early as 1878.10 At first the print only included the temple on the left, to which a second temple in the central distance and a buffalo skeleton in the foreground were added. Tate’s impression (T04914) is from the late nineteenth century, with signs of corrosion suggesting that the plate was of steel rather than copper.11
1
See Herrmann 1990, p.148, and also p.145.
2
Wilton 1979, p.439 no.1173, reproduced.
3
See Croft-Murray 1963, p.20; Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.95; and Piggott 1993, p.39.
4
Powell 1984, p.191.
5
Wilton 1980, p.159.
6
See Dupret 1989, p.36 and Forrester 1996, p.145; for the Stonehenge design see Alexander J. Finberg, The History of Turner’s Liber Studiorum with a New Catalogue Raisonné, London 1924, pp.323–5 no.81, drawing reproduced p.[324]; and Forrester 1996, p.145 no 81, drawing no.81 i, reproduced; see also Wilton 1980, p.156.
7
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cx, and vol.II 1913, pp.210, 385 no.799.
8
Rawlinson II 1913, p.385.
9
Ibid.; and Dupret 1989, p.36.
10
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.562.
11
See Lyles and Perkins 1989, p.59.
12
Finberg 1909, II, p.1204.
13
Shanes 1997, p.98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’, as ‘?Related to TB CCCLXIV 142 and 224’; also listed p.102 under ‘Sky Sketches’.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

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