J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Stormy Landscape with an Obelisk or Tower above a Classical Portico c.1823-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Stormy Landscape with an Obelisk or Tower above a Classical Portico c.1823–6
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 252
Watercolour on white wove paper, 224 x 304 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘252’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 252’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg suggested that this subject, then simply called ‘The obelisk’, might be a ‘design for so-called “Little Liber.”’1 The present title takes account of the numerous permutations of the titles under which it has since been exhibited and published. Gerald Wilkinson has observed: ‘The tower is obviously attached to a classical portico and, though disproportionately large, cannot properly be called an obelisk. The general layout agrees with looking north to St John’s Wood Church, the open space of Regent’s Park on the right – not that it matters, of course.’2 This suggestion is ingenious, though any similarity is likely fortuitous; likewise Eric Shanes has made a passing comparison with a view of St John the Baptist’s Church, Buxton, in the Worcester and Shrewsbury sketchbook (Tate D22254; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX 56a), but as this was used in 1830 a link must be disregarded.
Andrew Wilton has noted that there ‘seems to be no possible identification for this strange landscape’ which may include the ‘ruins of a classical temple’,3 and has compared it with the atmosphere of the stormy ‘Little Liber’ mezzotint engravings Catania, Sicily4 and Paestum;5 see the watercolour study for the latter (Tate D36070; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 224). He has also associated the present composition with the ‘Little Liber’ Bridge and Monument, for which the direct watercolour source is Tate D17193 (Turner Bequest CXCVII C), even giving it the same title at one stage.6
Wilton has compared the ‘thick, rich application ... and the palette of inky blues’ with that in ‘Little Liber’-type works such as a study related to Shields Lighthouse (Tate D25314; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 192).7 The ghostly form of the building(s) has been lifted out of the dark surrounding washes, and it and the clouds to the right show a pattern of palm prints imparting a velvety effect something like the dense cross-hatched tones of mezzotint. The same improvised technique is apparent in Tate D25315 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 193) in this subsection.
Finberg 1909, II, p.833.
Wilkinson 1975, p.118.
Wilton 1977, p.39.
See Dupret 1989, p.43 ill.7.
See Wilton 1974, p.95.
Wilton 1979, p.390; see also Wilton 1983, pp.230, 232; for discussion see Dupret 1989, p.42.
Wilton 1977, p.39.
Blank; inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB [?144] P | O’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘39’ right of centre, ascending vertically; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII 252’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 252’ bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘D25374’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Stormy Landscape with an Obelisk or Tower above a Classical Portico c.1823–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-stormy-landscape-with-an-obelisk-or-tower-above-a-r1183690, accessed 24 May 2024.