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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Interior of the Theatre, Herculaneum 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 83 Recto:
Interior of the Theatre, Herculaneum 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXV 81
Pencil on white wove paper, 113 x 189 mm
Inscribed by the artist in pencil ‘10’ within sketch bottom left
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in blue ink ‘278’ top left, inverted and ‘81’ bottom left, inverted
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXV 81’ top left, inverted
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Despite the fact that it was still largely unexcavated, Turner visited the archaeological site at Herculaneum in 1819.1 Most of the ancient town was still buried underground and virtually the only accessible structure of note was the theatre which could be experienced via a sequence of eighteenth-century tunnels. The artist made a sequence of sketches of the ruins as they appeared in the gloom of these subterranean passages. The details of these studies are generally very rough and schematic, but in this instance it is possible to identify part of the interior of the theatre with the tiered seating of the semi-circular arena, and the arched openings to the adjoining corridors.2 For a fuller description of the theatre at Herculaneum and Turner’s on-the-spot sketches see folio 86 (D15896; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 84).

Nicola Moorby
November 2010

See Powell 1984, p.187, and Powell 1987, pp.82–3.
See a similar virtual view online at http://www.proxima-veritati.auckland.ac.nz/Herculaneum/split_node_pages/node_208.html, accessed November 2010.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Interior of the Theatre, Herculaneum 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2010, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-interior-of-the-theatre-herculaneum-r1138361, accessed 21 April 2021.