Joseph Mallord William Turner

Landscape and Figure Sketches at ?Nemi; and Inscriptions of Italian Phrases


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 161 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

This page, the inside cover of the sketchbook, contains two very rough landscape sketches, and an equally swift study of the front and back of a woman. The latter is wearing a headdress of folded material, typical of the costume of Italian peasant women, or contadine. Turner made a number of drawings of these headdresses during his 1819 trip, and there is also a written description in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook: ‘the Hair is often | fastened with Ribbon on which a white cloth is fixed the front appears flat and | Square. the back falls to a point in some, others open work’ (see Tate D15465; CLXXXII 88). Turner’s record of this native style of dress later informed his depiction of figures populating his Italian watercolours, such as the contadina and bandit in Lake Albano circa 1828 (private collection),1 and the women in the vignette Lake Nemi circa 1835–40 (Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati),2 and Lake Nemi circa 1840 (British Museum).3 Further sketches of people can be found on folios 6 verso, 14 verso, 15 verso, 33 verso, 64, 69, 80, 80 verso, 82 and 82 verso (D15114, D15130, D15132, D15167, D15223, D15228, D15245, D15246, D15249 and D15250; Turner Bequest CLXXX 5a, 13a, 14a, 32a, 63, 68, 79, 79a, 81 and 81a).
The artist has also used the inside of the sketchbook to jot down some tourists’ phrases to help him negotiate his way around Rome. As Cecilia Powell has noted, Turner was unable to speak Italian and therefore relied on guide books and help from acquaintances.4 He was later described by a contemporary as speaking ‘but a few words of Italian, about as much of French, which two languages he jumbles together most amusingly’.5 Here he has attempted to copy a couple of useful sentences including ‘Possiamo vedere il Palazzo’ [Are we able to see the Palace?]. See also folio 82 verso (D15250; Turner Bequest CLXXX 81a).

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.731; see also Powell 1987, pp.127–9, reproduced fig.35 and colour pl.135 (detail).
Wilton 1979, no.1311.
Ibid, no.1381, see Powell 1987, reproduced colour pl.40.
Powell 1987, p.19.
Mrs Uwins, A Memoir of Thomas Uwins, R.A., vol.2, London 1858, p.240. Quoted in Powell 1987, p.19.

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