Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘The Forum’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’


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: 169 x 240 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 103

Catalogue entry

This rough watercolour and pencil sketch is a preliminary study for the vignette The Forum, which Turner produced for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27675; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 158). It shows a seated suppliant figure and a monk beneath an archway. This is a motif that also appears in Turner’s large-scale canvas Forum Romanum (Tate N00504), which he painted shortly before beginning work on his Italy commission.1
Beyond the archway, Turner has drawn a triumphant arch in pencil, an addition that is perhaps intended to locate the scene in or near Rome. In the final version of The Forum, Turner retained the archway as a framing device but dramatically altered the vignette’s content by eliminating the foreground figures and filling the space beyond the arch with a view into the Roman Forum. Turner produced a second preliminary study for The Forum, in which a frieze-like funeral procession passes before a columned Roman structure (see Tate D27621; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 104).
The study was part of a bundle labelled by John Ruskin on the wrapper as ‘Studies for Italy. Coarse, but noble’.2 Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.3
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.233.
Finberg 1909, vol. II, p.896.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘128 a’ centre right and ‘AB 83 P’ and ‘R’ and ‘CCLXXX 103’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 103’ bottom left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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