[from] Works Painted in Rome, 1828–9
TURNER went to Rome for the second time in 1828, leaving England in August and arriving in October; he stayed until early January 1829, and was back in England in February. Sir Charles Eastlake told Thornbury that they both stayed at 12 Piazza Mignanelli and that Turner ‘painted there the “View of Orvieto”, the “Regulus” and the “Medea” [Nos. 292 [N00511], 294 [N00519] and 293 [N00513]]. Those pictures were exhibited in Rome in some rooms which Turner subsequently occupied at the Quattro Fontane. The foreign artists who went to see them could make nothing of them’. However, Eastlake reported a more mixed reception in a letter to England in February 1829: ‘More than a thousand persons went to see his works when exhibited, so you can imagine how astonished, enraged or delighted the different schools of artists were, at seeing things with methods so new, so daring and excellences so unequivocal. The angry critics have, I believe, talked most, and it is possible you may hear of general severity of judgment, but many did justice, and many more were fain to admire what they confessed they dared not imitate.’
Turner advertised in the Diario di Roma for 17 December 1828 that he was to exhibit ‘due Paesaggi’ for a week at the Palazzo Trulli. These John Gage identifies as Orvieto and Regulus, though it is known that Medea was on view on 17 December. In a letter of February 1829, Eastlake confirmed that Turner had exhibited these three works, as well as having begun ‘eight or ten pictures’ (for a later letter by Eastlake, see No. 328a).
A number of paintings from the Turner Bequest are identical in their coarse canvas, the form of the original stretcher, and the way in which the canvas was fastened to the stretcher (with upholsterer's sprigs) to Orvieto and Medea (Regulus is on a similar canvas, but has lost its original stretcher and form of attachment). These are the three figure subjects, Nos. 296 [N05498], 297 [N05517] and 298 [N05509], and Southern Landscape, No. 299 [N05510]. Other works probably from the group are Nos. 300 [N05506] and 301 [N05473]. Other candidates for works begun in Rome are the composition sketches on a similar though even rather coarser canvas, Nos. 302–17; see p. 160. These sketches, and one of the larger unfinished pictures (No. 300), shows signs of having been rolled, presumably for ease of despatch to London. Both types of coarse canvas would seem to be Italian in origin, presumably purchased in Rome. Probably also from this trip are the smaller sketches on millboard. Nos. 318–27.
Turner had in fact written from Paris on II August 1828 to Charles Eastlake, who was already in Rome, asking him to secure one or two canvases, 59 1/4 × 98 1/2 in., so that he could begin straight away on a landscape for Lord Egremont. This is generally held to be Palestrina (No. 295 [N06283]), which measures 55 1/4 × 98 in. but is in fact on a fine canvas.
Turner himself reported his progress in a letter to Sir Francis Chantrey of 6 November 1828: ‘I have confined myself to the painting department...and having finished one, am about the second, and getting on with Lord E's [presumably Palestrina], which I began the very first touch at Rome; but as folk here talked that I would show them not, I finished a small three feet four to stop their gabbling’; this last was presumably Orvieto.
Eastlake's account in Thornbury goes on, ‘When those same works were packed to be sent to England, I advised him to have the cover covered with waxed cloth, as the pictures without it might be exposed to wet. Turner thanked me, and said the advice was important; “for”, he added, “if any wet gets to them, they will be destroyed.” This indicates his practice of preparing his pictures with a kind of tempera, a method which, before the surface was varnished, was not waterproof [in fact analysis has not revealed any tempera, though Turner did quite often use watercolour on his oils and in at least one case, No. 300, a picture apparently from this group seems to have suffered losses to its water-soluble glazes]. The pictures referred to were in fact not finished; nor could any of his exhibited pictures be said to be finished till he had worked on them when they were on the walls of the Royal Academy’. This is supported by the review of Orvieto in the Morning Chronicle for 3 May 1830 quoted under Pilate washing his Hands (No. 332 [N00510]). Although Turner had hoped that his Rome paintings would reach London in time for the 1829 Exhibition, there were shipping delays and Orvieto and Palestrina were not exhibited until 1830, nor Medea until 1831; Regulus was not exhibited until 1837.
Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 221; 1877, p. 100; Finberg 1961, pp. 307–11; Gage 1968, pp. 679–80; Gage 1980, pp. 118–20, 125, 127, 132.
296. [N05498] Reclining Venus 1828
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (5498)
Canvas, 69 × 98 (175 × 249)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (268, ‘I (Academy figure)’, no dimensions given; identified 1946, ? by chalk number on back); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.
Exh. Whitechapel 1953 (84).
Lit. Davies 1946, pp. 161, 190; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 45–6, 76, pl. 89; Lindsay 1966, p. 176; Gage 1968, pp. 679; Gage 1969, p. 91; Reynolds 1969, pp. 137–8, pl. 123.
The canvas is very coarse and is attached to the back of the stretcher by long bent-over sprigs, a characteristic of pictures known to have been executed in Rome during Turner's visit of 1828–9 (see p. 170). The position of the figure's right arm has twice been altered and the picture is unfinished. The receding arcade in the distance is thinly painted over a roughly sketched outline of unrelated forms.
The picture would seem to have been intended as a tribute or challenge to Titian's famous Venus of Urbino, which Turner could have seen in the Uffizi when he passed through Florence on the way to Rome in September 1828.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984