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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Paestum c.1823-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Paestum circa 1823–6
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 224
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 214 x 308 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCCLXIV – 2 2 4’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
(see main catalogue text)
As Nicola Moorby sets out in her catalogue entries for the 1819 Naples, Paestum and Rome sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI), Paestum (Pesto in modern Italian) was the most southerly site Turner visited on his Italian tour of 1819–20, on the Tyrrhenian coast about twenty miles south-east of Salerno, where three Doric Greek temples dating from the fifth century BC stand on the plain. Turner had shown one of them, taken from an existing source, in a watercolour diagrams for his 1811 Royal Academy perspective lectures (Tate D17072; Turner Bequest CXCV 102). He made various sketches at Paestum in 1819 (Tate D15945, D15946, D15968–D15973, D15995–D15997; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 19a, 19b, 29–31a, 42a–43a). Luke Herrmann has suggested that Turner worked on the ‘Little Liber’ design soon after his return from Italy, dating the inception of the whole series rather earlier than is generally suggested.1
The temples were also the subject of a watercolour vignette of about 1826–7 (Tate D27665 CCLXXX 148),2 engraved for Samuel Rogers’s Italy (1830), again including storm clouds and lightning above a low horizon.3 However, both it and the ‘Little Liber’ design are by no means accurate transcriptions of the sketches; rather, as Cecilia Powell has observed, they imaginatively reflect ‘the theme of vast temples standing firm amid wind and storm’.4 Andrew Wilton relates John Ruskin’s idea of Turner’s association of lightning with ‘monuments of dead religion’;5 the general composition and mood have been appropriately compared with the late unpublished Liber Studiorum composition Stonehenge of about 1824 (preliminary watercolour in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).6
The present composition was engraved in mezzotint,7 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself, although the plate was apparently not one of those found in his studio after his death8 (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). The development of the design through four trial proof stages is described by Rawlinson and Dupret, who mention the present watercolour as the source,9 as had Ruskin as early as 1878.10 At first the print only included the temple on the left, to which a second temple in the central distance and a buffalo skeleton in the foreground were added. Tate’s impression (T04914) is from the late nineteenth century, with signs of corrosion suggesting that the plate was of steel rather than copper.11
As discussed in the introduction, this ‘Little Liber’ subject is probably the one noted as ‘Temple’ among others listed inside the front cover of Turner’s Worcester and Shrewsbury sketchbook, in use in 1831 (Tate D41053; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX).
Pink and Yellow Sky (Tate D36213; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 352), a watercolour study formerly known as ‘Sea-Piece’,12 has been suggested as possibly related to this composition by Eric Shanes;13 the features in common are a low, dark horizon and heavy clouds, but the latter differ in their formation and there is no indication of buildings, so D36213 has not been included in the present ‘Little Liber’ section.
See Herrmann 1990, p.148, and also p.145.
Wilton 1979, p.439 no.1173, reproduced.
See Croft-Murray 1963, p.20; Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.95; and Piggott 1993, p.39.
Powell 1984, p.191.
Wilton 1980, p.159.
See Dupret 1989, p.36 and Forrester 1996, p.145; for the Stonehenge design see Alexander J. Finberg, The History of Turner’s Liber Studiorum with a New Catalogue Raisonné, London 1924, pp.323–5 no.81, drawing reproduced p.[324]; and Forrester 1996, p.145 no 81, drawing no.81 i, reproduced; see also Wilton 1980, p.156.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cx, and vol.II 1913, pp.210, 385 no.799.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.385.
Ibid.; and Dupret 1989, p.36.
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.562.
See Lyles and Perkins 1989, p.59.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1204.
Shanes 1997, p.98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’, as ‘?Related to TB CCCLXIV 142 and 224’; also listed p.102 under ‘Sky Sketches’.
Technical notes:
The lighting indicated in the bright distance is left as bare paper within the area of pinkish wash. The clouds above are very roughly indicated, with the tones partly differentiated by working wet on wet. They peter out well below the top of the sheet; the top of the mezzotint image corresponds roughly with the upper edges of the watercolour strokes. There is very rough pencil hatching above and partly overlapping with the clouds.
Blank; not accessible at time of writing and thus not inspected for inscriptions or condition.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Paestum c.1823–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2011, 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-paestum-r1133275, accessed 23 May 2024.