Joseph Mallord William Turner

Moonlight over the Roman Campagna


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 130 × 255 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXC 65

Catalogue entry

Apart from a small stretch of river there are no distinguishing geographical features to help identify the location of this coloured sketch of open countryside. However, the format of empty landscape and wide expanse of sky as well as the focus on atmospheric effects has close similarities with other coloured compositions of the River Tiber and the Roman Campagna in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate D16122–D16123, D16129–D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–5, 41–43, 45) and the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16385; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 55). A second related study can be found on folio 8 (D16469; Turner Bequest CXC 54).
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background, although in this instance the artist has extensively worked up the design with further watercolour and gouache. Turner varies his application of paint considerably ranging from wet in wet for the touches of pink in top right-hand corner of the sky, to drier patches of gouache creating the textured areas of foliage in the foreground. He has also created pale highlights by scratching through the paint to reveal the paper beneath, principally to describe the white disc above the horizon and the reflected light cast on the water beneath. This has been described as ‘Moonrise’, although it could equally represent the rising or setting sun.1 There is no evidence of under-drawing and despite the naturalistic appearance of the scene it is likely that Turner painted it from memory or imagination.
Butlin, Wilson and Gage 1974, p.88.
Blank except for traces of watercolour
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘786’ bottom left and by unknown hands in pencil ‘CXC p 65’ bottom right and ‘?CXC 65’ descending left-hand edge

Nicola Moorby
May 2009

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