Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vesuvius and the Sorrentine Peninsula from Via Posillipo

1819

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: 253 x 403 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16106
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 18

Display caption

Turner visited Naples in 1819. The great prospect of the Bay of Naples, culminating in the peak of Vesuvius, was one of the most famous views in Europe. Turner's Neapolitan watercolours, like his Venetian subjects of the same year, show his mature appreciation of the watercolour medium as he confronted the shimmering radiance of Italian light.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Turner’s viewpoint for this partially coloured study of Vesuvius is the Via Posillipo, a new road commissioned in 1812 by the King of Naples, Joachim Murat, in order to make the area west of the city accessible to travellers. The road ran the length of the Posillipo coast between Mergellina and the Capo di Posillipo, at times skirting and stretching over the steep cliffs and bays. In this view a gully amidst the rocky tufa landscape has been bridged by an arched viaduct, flanked on either side by some of the historic houses and villas which characterise this part of the coastline. The vista looks east across the Bay of Naples towards Vesuvius with its smoking crater and the Sorrentine peninsula on the right. Visible along the shore at the foot of the volcano is the city of Portici. Similar views from Posillipo can be seen on folio 8 (D16095), as well as in the Gandolfo to Naples sketchbook (Tate D15669; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 56a) and the Naples, Paestum, Rome sketchbook (Tate D16072; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 82a).
The study has long been admired for the limpid watercolour animating the top half of the composition. John Ruskin, who believed it to be the ‘beginning of a finished drawing’,1 described it as having the ‘divinest fresh colour’,2 whilst Cecilia Powell defined it as ‘miraculous colour over functional pencil’.3 The artist has tested his hues on the left-hand side of the paper before applying them over the pencil underdrawing. For a general discussion of Turner’s use of watercolour in Naples, see the introduction to the sketchbook.
1
Cook and Wedderburn (eds.), vol.XIII, p.379.
2
Ibid., p.349 note 2.
3
Powell 1987, p.50.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 18 (see the concordance in the introduction).
Verso:
Blank, save for inscriptions by unknown hands in pencil ‘18’ circed above centre, and ‘CLXXXVII . 18’ bottom right; stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII. 18’ below Turner Bequest monogram centre left.

Nicola Moorby
November 2010

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