Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on millboard
Support: 419 × 521 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

[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.

Nos. 318–27 Small Italian Sketches, 1828?

THESE small sketches on millboard are distinct in style from those, also from the Turner Bequest, found at the British Museum (Nos. 485–500). Several are painted on muslin stretched over the millboard, but there is evidence that one of the sketches on muslin was originally on the same piece of millboard as one of those painted directly onto the board (see Nos. 324 [N05545] and 325 [N05535]). A number of these sketches seem to show landscapes in the vicinity of Rome and Naples. Though very different from earlier sketches from nature like those done of the Thames c. 1807 (Nos. 160–94) they have a directness and freshness which suggests that they may also have been done out-of-doors, though with formal compositions in mind from the outset. There is no secure evidence that Turner went to Naples on his second visit to Rome but it would have been easy for him to do so, and this group of sketches has usually been dated to this visit. Nevertheless, they could have been done on the 1819 visit, when, however, Turner did a far greater amount of work on paper. Evelyn Joll, in the 1983–4 Paris exhibition catalogue (p. 111), stresses the factors in favour of an 1819 dating though he does not commit himself to this; see also under Nos. 318 [N05526] and 319 [N05530].

327. [N05481] Seascape 1828?


Millboard, 16 1/2 × 20 1/2 (42 × 52)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? one of 178 to 182, 5 each 1'8 1/2" × 1'4 5/8", see No. 323 [N05532]); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 158.

Fairly close in style to the Study of Sea and Sky painted at Cowes in 1827 (No. 268 [N02001]) and therefore probably to be dated in the later 1820s; c.f. also No. 271 [N05491]. If all the sketches in this group on millboard were the result of a single period of activity by Turner, then the scene is presumably Italian, but see No. 276 [N05525] for a particularly un-Italian picture with which this sketch could be associated.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984


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