Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Priamar Fortress at Savona


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 147 x 192 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 140

Catalogue entry

This subject has traditionally been suggested as a coastal ‘Riviera’ view,1 likely in the South of France;2 while considering it in the context of Turner’s French tours, Lindsay Stainton noted that ‘the village shown here could well be somewhere along the coast between Nice and Genoa’,3 the Italian city situated roughly a hundred miles north-east of the French border.
Roland Courtot, a geographer who has drawn on his local knowledge to write on various aspects of Turner’s work in the South of France,4 has since made a detailed case study of the present work; after considering and comparing other possible sites, he has identified the subject as the Fortezza del Priamar at Savona, on the Mediterranean coast in the north-west of Italy, about thirty miles west of Genoa.5 Turner passed that way in 1828 as he travelled to Rome, and again perhaps in 1837; see the entry for Tate D33718 (Turner Bequest CCCXLI 39), a view of Genoa itself.6
Courtot has noted that Turner represented the fortress, begun in the 1540s and expanded in phases into the eighteenth century,7 from the south. The complex is shown with reasonable accuracy except in the omission of the long low building known as the Palazzo de la Sibilla which actually masks the approach to the bridge and gateway to the upper part from this side.8 Today the fortress is open to visitors; the ramparts overlook a railway and an extensive array of docks and warehouses within a reinforced sea wall, while the town beyond, barely indicated here, has seen much development.
Indeed, Courtot has noted the poetic licence taken with the setting in general even as it then appeared, as the beach actually runs straight, and the hills in the vicinity are much less dramatic. The scene likely synthesises impressions of French Riviera and Italian coastal landscapes and fortifications; as Courtot had previously written concerning the composition, ‘cette aquarelle serait alors non pas l’image d’un coin de la Riviera, mais l’image de “la” Riviera’9 (that is, not the representation of a particular corner of the Riviera, but of ‘The Riviera’).
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.386, 616, and Finberg 1909, II, p.797.
See Wilton 1974, pp.115–16, and Wilton 1977, p.56.
Stainton 1981, p.300; French version quoted in Courtot 2008, p.82.
See for example ‘Turner en Provence’, in Ian Warrell, Alexandra Loske, Joyce H. Townsend and others, Turner et la Couleur, exhibition catalogue, Hotel de Caumont Centre d’art Aix-en-Provence 2016, pp.94–107.
See Courtot 2008, pp.82–3, including the author’s drawing of the site, p.83 pl.3; the present author is very grateful to Professor Courtot for drawing his attention to the article (email, 5 December 2017).
See also Courtot 2008, p.82.
See ibid., p.82.
See ibid., and pl.3.
Roland Courtot, ‘Des modèles paysagers, des géopaysages?’, Rives nord-méditerranéennes, no.8, 1993, p.24, quoted in Courtout 2008, p.83.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.386.

Matthew Imms
February 2016

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