Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Landscape: Composition of Tivoli’


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 667 x 1006 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVII A

Catalogue entry

As noted by Andrew Wilton,1 this large ‘colour beginning’ informed a finished watercolour on a similar scale, Landscape: Composition of Tivoli, dated 1817, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818 (private collection),2 and engraved in 1827 (Tate impression: T04502). With its central sun over water and classical architecture, the design evokes Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), whom Turner greatly admired and often emulated;3 compare for example the oil The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited in 1817 (Tate N00499).4 The Tivoli subject is one of a number of Italian views based on topographical drawings by other artists such as James Hakewill (1778–1843)5 which Turner produced in the years immediately preceding his first visit; see Nicola Moorby’s introduction to the ‘First Italian Tour 1819–20’ section of this catalogue.6
Indeed, Turner would not actually visit Tivoli, about twenty miles north-east of Rome, until 1819, when he recorded its dramatic setting and classical remains, including the well-known rotunda of the so-called ‘Temple of Vesta’, featured on the right of the 1817 watercolour, but only as a generalised form here. See for example Tate D16120 (Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 32) a view in the Naples: Rome. C. Studies sketchbook tinted in relatively ‘muted greys and greens’, as Diane Perkins has noted in relation to the atmosphere of the present idealised treatment.7 The temple features in numerous drawings in that sketchbook, as well as in the Tivoli to Rome and Tivoli books (Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXIX, CLXXXIII). Meanwhile, the word ‘Composition’ in the title of the exhibited watercolour perhaps hints at a deliberately capriccio-like approach to a landscape Turner had yet to explore, the juxtaposition of the natural and architectural elements being inaccurate to say the least, as Eric Shanes has explained.8
Wilton has characterised the present sheet as ‘a separate exercise, exploratory, as it were, rather than preparatory’;9 its ‘range of heavy colours’ is shared with others of the period such as Tate D17185 (Turner Bequest CXCVI U), another Tivoli study.10 He describes the ‘balance of abstract forms and restricted colour forces’ here, ‘founded on a contrast between pinkish-ochre or yellow, and pale blue ... punctuated by a strong green accent, confined to a single sector of the design’ to the left of centre, emphasising the ‘pattern of vertical bands’ playing off against the horizontal balance of sky and reflection; this would be made even more apparent in the finished composition, where ‘the right-hand block of tone is given a firm vertical boundary in the temple wall’, and the sunlit distance becomes ‘carefully modulated’ and ‘articulated by further, distant verticals.11
See Wilton 1974, pp.26, 81.
Wilton 1979, p.356 no.495, pl.168 (colour).
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
See Luke Herrmann, ‘Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.[134].
See Wilton 1979, p.381, and pp.381–3 nos.697–717; see also Perkins 1990, p.35.
See Perkins 1990, p.35.
See Shanes 2000, p.172.
Wilton 1974, p.26; see also Shanes 2000, p.172.
Ibid., p.174.
Wilton 1979, p.159.
Wilton 1979, p.356 no.496, as.?c.1817 but exhibited 1825, reproduced.
See ibid., and Wilton 1974, p.26; but see also Shanes 2000, p.174, refuting this.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.309 no.531, pl.532 (colour); see also Wilton 2001, p.316.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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