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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Study for 'Temples of Paestum', Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Study for ‘Temples of Paestum’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 92
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 62 x 203 mm on white wove paper, 131 x 258 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(92’ bottom right
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘148’ bottom centre and ‘CCLXXX 92’ lower right and ‘Paestum’ and ‘Oxford 98 x’ bottom right. Also ruled pencil lines on all four sides of vignette
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX–92’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is a preparatory watercolour study for the head-piece of the section entitled ‘Paestum’ in Rogers’s Italy. A second and very different version of this subject was engraved and published in Italy (see Tate, D27665; Turner Bequest, CCLXXX 148). The three fifth-century Doric Greek temples at Paestum had been rediscovered in the mid eighteenth century and the site soon became a well-known destination for English travellers on the Grand Tour.1 It was the southernmost point of Turner’s own tour of Italy in 1819–20. During his travels Turner produced numerous sketches of the temples at Paestum (see Tate, D15945–6, D15967–73, D15980, D15995–7; Turner Bequest, CLXXXVI 19a–19b, 28a–31a, 35, 42a–43a). The composition for the image is clearly derived from several sketches that Turner made while at Paestum (see Tate, D15946, D15968; Turner Bequest, CLXXXVI 19 b, 29). These drawings would later serve as models for the background in Story of Apollo and Daphne, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 (Tate, N00520).2
The watercolour vignette study shows that Turner first considered depicting all three of the temples in clear weather and from a significant distance. It seems to derive from a different set of verses than those which Turner chose to illustrate in his final version of Paestum. In an earlier section of the poem, Rogers describes how:
The air is sweet with violets, running wild
Mid broken friezes and fallen capitals;
    as alone I stand
In this, the nobler pile, the elements
Of earth and air its only floor and covering,
How solemn is the stillness!
(Italy, p.209)
Although the forms of the temples and the surrounding mountains are only slightly indicated, Turner’s scene powerfully evokes the peaceful and tranquil mood that Rogers describes above. The light washes that define the areas of water, sand, and sky seem to be inspired by Rogers’s description of the ancient temples with ‘earth and air its only floor and covering’. Although Cecilia Powell has described the study and final version of Paestum as being ‘close in substance and feeling’, it is important to note the very different moods and compositions of these two works.3 The existence of these two divergent designs clearly indicates that Turner paid close attention to Rogers’s text when deciding which verses to highlight in his illustrations.
The study was once part of a parcel labelled by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.4 Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.5
J.R. Hale (ed), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.8.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.369; Piggott 1993, pp.38, 82.
Powell 1987, pp.6 and 13 note 60.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Study for ‘Temples of Paestum’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, 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-study-for-temples-of-paestum-rogerss-italy-r1133326, accessed 30 May 2024.