Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Pantheon, the Morning after the Fire


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 395 × 515 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest IX A

Technique and condition

This is an accurate graphite pencil drawing on white paper. Turner used both freehand sketching and ruling in this work. The stone blocks were lightly ruled first in graphite pencil and the figures were added into spaces left for them while the blocks were being drawn. The glazing bars have been ruled in watercolour. A narrow range of colour mixes has been used, e.g. vermillion and brown ochre has been used for the bricks. A fox-brown lake pigment similar to the several brownish-red madder lakes on an iron-based substrate found among Turner's studio pigments can be recognised by analysis. The studio pigments were redder in appearance than this, which indicates that it has faded. A yellow lake pigment is present too, a material also likely to fade on light exposure. Such colour losses may be responsible for the large number of white areas seen in the costumes today.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
January 2011

Catalogue entry

The Pantheon Assembly Rooms, the first important building designed by the leading Neo-Classical architect James Wyatt (1746–1813), had been erected in Oxford Street in 1772. In 1790 they were converted into an opera house, under the management of Robert Bray O’Reilly, with William Hodges as ‘Inventor and Painter of the Decorations’. Hodges painted a view of the interior, to which William Pars added figures, shortly after the building was opened; the picture is now in Temple Newsam House, Leeds.1
On 30 April 1791 a ‘W Turner’ began to work in the painting room, continuing there until the building was burnt down on 14 January 1792. Arson was strongly suspected, and rumour suggested that the scene painting room had been the source of the blaze. Curtis Price has proposed, partly on the evidence of signatures on receipts, that ‘W Turner’ was the sixteen-year-old J.M.W. Turner, who showed this finished watercolour of the Pantheon immediately after the fire at the Academy exhibition of 1792. A professional connection with the building would explain his interest, although the fire might well have attracted his attention in any case. It has been pointed out by Judith Milhous and others that the salary of the Pantheon’s ‘W Turner’ was far in excess of what a sixteen-year-old student might have expected to earn, that the signatures of the two Turners, which appear respectively in the receipts of the Pantheon and in the Royal Academy’s Schools books, despite a superficial similarity, are in fact by different hands, and that the identification is therefore probably erroneous.2 Turner was to go on to draw several of Wyatt’s buildings or restorations, including Salisbury Cathedral, Fonthill, New College and Christ Church, Oxford, and the Brocklesby Mausoleum (see elsewhere in the present catalogue).
The view of the façade of the Pantheon itself, together with its immediately adjacent buildings, is taken from Turner’s pencil study (Tate D17127; Turner Bequest CXCV 156). His finished watercolour of the interior of the ruin3 (see under Tate D00122; Turner Bequest IX B) was formerly thought to have been the work exhibited at the Royal Academy. He seems to have derived his general approach to the scene, with its lively representative figures, from the large London views of Thomas Malton and Edward Dayes, e.g. Malton’s St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, of about 1787 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, D.1951–14) and Dayes’s Buckingham House, St James’s Park of 1790, in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1756–1871). Finberg read the signature as ‘Wm. Turner, 1792’, noting that the date was ‘very indistinct, and perhaps questionable’.
See Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini eds., Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1996, p.291 no.253, reproduced in colour.
Ivan Moseley, ‘Turner and Music – revisited’, to be published.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.303 no.28, reproduced.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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