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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Antiquities at Pola c.1817-18

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Antiquities at Pola c.1817–18
Turner Bequest CXCVI T
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 269 x 426 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1814’
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXCVI. T.’ and ‘WM 1814’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXCVI – T’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
As suggested by Finberg,1 this loose colour study with slight pencil indications relates to the engraving Antiquities at Pola (no Tate impression; several of various states at the British Museum, London), the frontispiece of Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Pola in Istria, a book by Thomas Allason (1790–1852) published by John Murray in 1819. As discussed below, it varies in minor respects from the much more detailed watercolour (private collection)2 on which the print was based.
As Andrew Wilton has noted, the subject is comparable to a number based on topographical views of Italian scenes made before Turner’s first visit to Italy in 1819, particularly those for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy from Hakewill’s own drawings;3 see Nicola Moorby’s introduction to the ‘First Italian Tour 1819–20’ section of this catalogue.4 Although Turner subsequently travelled extensively in Italy, this prefigured the method he employed when later commissioned to make topographical views of places further afield where he never toured, including elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Greece, the Middle East and India, when he work from drawings supplied by those who had been there in person.5
In the present case, the site was nearer to what would become familiar territory, being the city of Pola (or Pula) in Istria, part of modern Croatia on the opposite coast of the Adriatic from Venice (where Turner first went in 1819), and the site of various impressive Roman monuments.6 In the event, he never visited Pola, and as with the Hakewill project, he was reliant on the author’s drawings. Like Hakewill, Allason was an architect who had visited the sites in question and made his own detailed studies.7 Cecilia Powell has suggested that Turner’s complex reimaginings of classical townscapes in paintings such as The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited in 1817 (Tate N00499),8 showed him as the ‘ideal artist’ to make a ‘visual synthesis’ to introduce Allason’s book, in the well-established manner of a capriccio of disparate elements.9
The author had visited Pola as part of his Grecian expedition of 1814–16, and his 1819 book would include ‘fourteen engravings including views, plans and vignettes’10 by various hands. Turner mentioned Allason in relation to Pola in a latter of November 1817,11 and listed ‘Allinson [sic] Pola’ among other current work in the Hints River sketchbook (Tate D10646; Turner Bequest CXLI 35a). He is said to have given the finished watercolour to the collector James Rivington Wheeler (1758–1834), despite a financial reference in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook to ‘Allason 20 [guineas]’ (Tate D12204; Turner Bequest CLIV a 58), having first presumably loaned the work to be engraved.12
W.G. Rawlinson has concisely summarised the arrangement of the finished frontispiece: ‘A composition. Portico of temple on left; Roman arch on right; amphitheatre behind. Quay in centre, against which are classical galleys. Many sculptured stones in foreground.’13 The buildings are respectively the Temple of Rome and Augustus, matching (in reverse) the portico in the plate of that building opposite page 20,14 the Arch of the Sergii, which also appears opposite page 18,15 and the well-preserved amphitheatre, shown opposite page 12.16 A less prominent fourth monument was introduced at the foot of the latter, to the left of the Sergii arch, in the form of a gateway discovered by Allason, as depicted in isolation opposite page 22.17
As Powell notes, by the time he came to make the colour sketch, Turner, as might be expected from the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective, had worked out the means of representing these buildings in a fictional but harmonious spatial relationship, leaving little fundamental to change in the finished composition except that in the sketch ‘the amphitheatre extends less conspicuously above the triumphal arch and the arches of the [lower] gateway are somewhat differently shaped’.18 The hues here, as is often evident in Turner’s ‘colour beginnings’ compared to related finished works, are somewhat stronger, contrasting the (as yet only imagined) Southern ‘golden yellow for the buildings and mid-blue for the sky’; the atmosphere of the final design is tempered by a mass of intricate detail.19
Powell has compared the foreground, littered with carved fragments only hinted at as a pattern of light and shade in the present study, with that of the frontispiece to Turner’s own Liber Studiorum, issued in 1812 (see under Tate D08150; Turner Bequest CXVII V).20 Compared with the overgrown and somewhat dilapidated contemporary state of the buildings as represented in the individual plates, there are only occasional indications of the main buildings being past their prime, and Turner also introduced a number of gracefully robed figures on the steps of the temple and others around the archway, as well as the ancient shipping at the centre. It is as if he is picturing the buildings in the course of construction rather than decay, with the stonework, decorated with mythical creatures, noble heads and Latin and Greek inscriptions, awaiting installation. Compare the foreground of the 1815 painting Dido Building Carthage (Turner Bequest, National Gallery, London).21
The right-hand side of the final design was simplified by the omission of the projecting building immediately to the right of the archway, shown in the main engraved view of it and hinted at here by a shadowy mass; Turner seems to have thought of emphasising the spatial recession by placing a large amphora or jug at the bottom right, but no equivalent is found in the finished composition.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.
Without an individual entry in Wilton 1979, but see p.381; see also Upstone 1989, p.6.
Wilton 1979, pp.381–3 nos.700–717.
See also Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.13–19.
Including Wilton 1979, pp.444–7 nos.1210–1235 (selected subjects), pp.447–50 nos.1236–1263, and p.455 no.1291–1297.
See Powell 1984, pp.39–40.
Ibid., p.39.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–01 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
Powell 1984, p.39, 41.
Ibid., p.40.
Ibid., p.41; see also John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.71 note 4.
See Edward Yardley, ‘The Turner Collector: “That Munificent Gentleman” – James Rivington Wheeler’, Turner Studies, vol.6 no.2, Winter 1986, pp.56, 57 ill.10, 58, 60 note 24.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.86 no.162.
Powell 1984, p.41 ill.3 (reversed).
Ibid., p.42 ill.6.
Ibid., p.41 ill.4.
Ibid., p.42 ill.5.
Ibid., p.43.
Ibid., p.41.
Ibid., p.43.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.94–6 no.131, pl.133 (colour).
Blank; laid down. Backing sheet stamped with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CXCVI – T’ towards bottom left, and inscribed in pencil ‘CXCVI T | WM. 1814 | AB.154 OP | O’ at centre and ‘CXCVI – T’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
June 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Antiquities at Pola c.1817–18 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-antiquities-at-pola-r1184788, accessed 26 May 2024.