The inscription verso suggests that the building shown here was in or near Oxford Street, and Finberg’s identification of the subject as the Oxford Street Pantheon is possibly correct. See Tate D17127 (Turner Bequest CXCV 156), D00122 (IX B) and D00121 (IX A). However, no exact correspondence with the ruins shown in D17127 and D00122 is apparent; for instance, the upper storey has long rectangular windows whereas the Pantheon’s second floor (third storey) has square widows. There is no sign of the brick columns that are a conspicuous feature of the Pantheon interior (see D00122). The sloping gable surmounted by a wide chimney stack in this drawing does not correspond to any feature of the Pantheon, though it might belong to a neighbouring building.
The subject may be some other structure in the course of demolition. The Savoy Palace, for instance, was pulled down in the early 1790s, and Turner is known to have made drawings, a year or two later, of the half-demolished chapel there (Tate D36523, D36526; Turner Bequest CCCLXXV 2, 5). The cloud of dust shown rising at the foot of the toppling central mass of masonry suggests that the building is actually in the process of collapsing. The drawing may therefore be an impression or reminiscence of a scene of demolition, or even an invention. Finberg notes the existence of another sketch of similar ruins in the collection of the Turner family.
This is an uncharacteristic drawing in several respects; the tonal use of the pencil is unusual; but the loosely handled penwork is not unlike some of the freer sketches of the period, e.g. the study of Malmesbury Abbey (Tate D00110; Turner Bequest VII C). Turner may conceivably have made use of it when inventing the ruined buildings in The Destruction of Sodom of about 1805 (Tate N00474).1
There are notes on the verso (D40033).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.44 no.56, pl.66.
The sheet has been folded twice, and cut away along the right-hand edge.