Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Idealised Italianate Landscape with Trees, Water and a Distant Tower, Lit by a Low Sun


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 306 × 484 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 323

Catalogue entry

This luminous ‘colour beginning’, with trees overlooking a stretch of water with a high tower, was linked by Finberg1 to a major mythological painting set beside Lake Avernus, The Golden Bough, which was exhibited in 1834 (Tate N00371); in this he followed the description bestowed when the sheet was selected for display at the National Gallery in the late nineteenth century.2 Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll accepted the connection without further comment in their discussion of the painting.3
While there are similarities in the placing of trees on the right and high ground receding to the left above water, such elements are generic in Turner’s Italianate, idealised scenes, as demonstrated by the selection of similar compositions in the present subsection. Compare the central sun and contre-jour effect in Tate D24446 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 323), for example, which ultimately derive from Turner’s admiration for Claude Lorrain’s paintings (see the subsection’s Introduction). The lighting in the 1834 painting is bright enough, but somewhat pearly and diffuse compared with the warm dawn or sunset effect produced here. Andrew Wilton has called this scene a ‘variant’ of The Golden Bough, in the sense of being ‘similar to many colour-beginnings of classical landscapes ... which may relate to several such pictures from the Bay of Baiae onwards.’4 That large, strongly back-lit painting was exhibited in 1823 as The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl (Tate N00505),5 in the wake of Turner’s revelatory 1819 Italian tour.
Eric Shanes initially declared that the present work related ‘very definitely’6 to the idealised watercolour (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)7 engraved in 1827 as Barnard Castle, Durham for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04517–T04518). He subsequently suggested it instead as one of several ‘possible or certain sketches and studies’8 for the watercolour Lake Albano of about 1828 (private collection),9 engraved for The Keepsake in 1829 (Tate impressions: T04614, T04615), although of those he mentioned Tate D25447 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 324) appears the strongest contender. Ian Warrell has suggested Lake Nemi as another possible setting, while observing ‘how Turner’s borrowed compositional devices could serve just as well for his English subjects’ in another northern England and Wales subject, Prudhoe Castle, Northumberland (British Museum, London),10 engraved in 1828 (Tate impressions: T04525, T04536).11
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.204–5 no.355, pl.359.
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.644.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.205.
Wilton 1975, p.124.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.139–40 no.230, pl.233 (colour).
Shanes 1979, p.156.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.392 no.793, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, p.29.
Wilton 1979, p.384 no.731.
Ibid., p.393 no.798, pl.187 (colour).
Warrell 2002, p.198.
Powell 2001, p.15, in response to Warrell’s caption to this work in the 2000 Tate display reprised in his 2002 commentary.
See Wilton 1977, p.40.
See also Wilton 1979, p.384 nos.726 and 730.
Wyllie 1905, opposite p.86.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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