Joseph Mallord William Turner

Aosta: The Arch of Augustus, Looking South to Mount Emilius


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Chalk, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 212 × 283 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXIV 10

Technique and condition

This sketch was created on grey or grey-washed laid paper, using a fairly soft graphite pencil, freely and lightly for the figures and the background landscape that were drawn after heavier, probably ruled pencil lines which established the vertical lines of the arch. A warm brown wash, applied quite uniformly, economically depicts the arch, its shadow, the large tree on the right and the hillside beyond. This simple application of one colour instantly defined both the sky, and sunlit areas of foreground. Brownish black chalk and small, light applications of white gouache, and probably some washing out of the brown wash with clean water to create a whiter background for the gouache of the more distance temple-like monument, completed the sketch.
The sketch has in the past been covered with a window mount and over-exposed to light, which has faded the grey background colour of the paper until it is difficult to tell whether the paper itself was manufactured grey, or prepared with a grey wash. More noticeably, it has caused the paper to darken to brown. This has greatly reduced the contrast between the (unaltered) brown washed areas that define sunlit and shaded areas, and the reserves that defined ever larger areas of the composition. It has somewhat reduced the impact of the white gouache as well. The effect now is of a study in brown, rather than a deliberate contrast of greys, brown and white used to create a detailed sketch very rapidly.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

For Turner’s visit to Aosta in 1802 see Introduction to the sketchbook, and notes to D04501; Turner Bequest LXXIV 9.
Turner’s label for this drawing does not seem to have survived but its wording, ‘le Arc de Triumph, Ville de Aoust’, was preserved by John Ruskin. The drawing is one of two of the Arch of Augustus from this sketchbook, the other being a frontal view (D04501; Turner Bequest LXXIV 9). Here, Turner looks past the Roman arch towards the wooded slopes at the foot of Mount Emilius to the south of the city. The building on the right, with tiled roof and sun blinds, appears in both drawings. Together with a more panoramic view of the city from near the Cimitero Storico di Sant’Orso, also from this sketchbook (D05403; Turner Bequest LXXIV 11), the present drawing must have helped to inform the watercolour vignette of Aosta that Turner made for Samuel Roger’s s poem Italy (1830), where it was engraved by Henry le Keux; the watercolour is Tate D27662; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 145. In the vignette, Turner added walls to each side of the Arch of Augustus. However, the 1802 drawings must have confirmed his memory that the capitals of the arch were Corinthian, not Doric as rendered in early proofs of the print. In notes on the second of these, Turner corrected the error.1
In his 1992 book, David Hill compares this drawing with a photograph of his own, taken from the same position.2
Eric M. Lee, Translations: Turner and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1993, p.8.
Hill 1992, p.82 reproduced in colour.
Blank, inscribed perhaps by a later hand in pencil ‘6’

David Blayney Brown
September 2011

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