Joseph Mallord William Turner

Avenches: the Roman Column,‘Le Cicognier’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and chalk on paper
Support: 210 × 284 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXIV 95

Display caption

Avenches, near Morat, stands on the site of the Roman city of Aventicum, capital of Helvetia. A single Roman column, part of a Roman temple of Apollo, was long known as 'Le Cicognier' from the generations of storks who built their nests on it. Turner drew it on his first Continental trip in 1802; Byron saw it some years later, and described it in the third canto of 'Childe Harold': 'By a lone wall a lonelier column rears/ A grey and grief-worn aspect of old days'.

Gallery label, May 1992

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Catalogue entry

Turner’s label for this drawing is inscribed ‘Avranches’. The drawing was exhibited as number 17 in the Second Loan Collection.1
Turner visited Avenches en route from Lausanne to Berne in 1802. David Hill has noted that ‘in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries [it] was a major highlight of any Swiss itinerary’.2
The town was formerly Aventicum, the capital of Roman Helvetia, and Turner’s main subject is the Corinthian column, a survivor from a temple of Apollo, known as ‘Le Cicognier’ on account of its long service as a nesting-place for storks. The Roman city, mostly ruined or overgrown, lies outside the modern town towards which Turner is looking here, past the column and over the Roman amphitheatre. The view is roughly southwards. Turner left the town from this side and continued the few miles to the lake and town of Murten (Morat) which he also drew in this sketchbook (D40197).
The Roman column was celebrated by Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, lxv:
By a lone wall a lonelier column rears
A gray and grief-work aspect of old days;
‘Tis the last remnant of the wreck of years
And looks as with the wild-bewilder’d gaze
Of one to stone converted by amaze,
Yet still with consciousness; and there it stands
Making a marvel that it not decays,
When the coeval pride of human hands,
Levell’d Adventicum, hath strew’d her subject lands
The paper is discoloured from exposure.
For the full tour of the Second Loan Collection see Warrell 1991, p.43.
Hill 1992, p.97.
Blank, inscribed perhaps by a later hand in pencil ‘17’

David Blayney Brown
September 2011

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