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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Roman Campagna, East of the City, with Monte Velino in the Distance 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Roman Campagna, East of the City, with Monte Velino in the Distance 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 42
Watercolour on white wove paper, 256 x 404 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘42’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 42’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
A large number of studies from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook represent variant views of the Roman Campagna, the area of countryside encircling the outskirts of the Eternal City (Tate D16122–D16139; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–51). This is one of six such compositions where Turner has developed the landscape in watercolour (see also Tate D16122–D16123, D16129, D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–35, 41, 43, 45). Thomas Ashby identified this view as looking east towards the distant Apennine mountains from a point outside the Porta San Lorenzo in the north-east of the city.1 The snowy heights visible in the centre are the triple peaks of the Monte Velino, one of the highest mountains in central Italy, approximately sixty miles from Rome, above Avezzano and the Fucine Lake.2 To the left is Monte Gennarro and to the far left is Monte Terminillo above Rieti.3 Just right of the gap below Monte Velino is a series of pale highlights denoting the position of Tivoli with the hills rising above Subiaco, whilst to the far right is the ‘rocky cock’s comb’ of Monte Guadagnolo.4 The foreground and middle distance is dominated by the empty plain of the Campagna, featureless except for a series of small white towers or ruins and the faintest indication of a meandering river. In one place a plume of white smoke seems to suggest some human presence in the otherwise deserted landscape.
Further studies of the Campagna dating from Turner’s 1819 Italian tour can be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16217–D16226; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 35–40) and throughout the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate; Turner Bequest CXC). By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments. Turner’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The two French masters had famously made a number of sketching trips along the banks of the Tiber north of the city; indeed the countryside between the Porta del Popolo and the Ponte Molle had popularly become known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’. Turner, in particular, admired the work of Claude Lorrain whose paintings such as The Roman Campagna circa 1639 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) combined motifs studied on the spot with an idealised vision of landscape. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists in search of authentic Italian landscape continued to follow the precedent for drawing and painting the Campagna and during the 1820s a small European coterie began to focus on painting in the open air.5 Unlike earlier topographical artists who had focused their depiction of the Campagna on images of selected landmarks, nineteenth century en plein air painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) and his contemporaries developed a new approach rooted in empirical observation. Working directly from nature they produced panoramic views of vast barren spaces, deserted except for distant hills and isolated ruins which served to emphasise the grand emptiness of the terrain.
Turner’s watercolour studies of the Campagna share a number of pictorial similarities with the work of these en plein air artists.6 The landscapes he depicts are often wide, open spaces, devoid of figures, where the key compositional interest is provided by the winding river, distant mountain ranges or solitary ancient structures. There is also a similar focus on the broad expanse of sky and the transient effects of light. Yet there is no evidence that the artist actually painted in the open air during his time in Italy. Several contemporary sources testify that his preference was for drawing on the spot and for colouring indoors away from the motif, since it took up ‘too much time to colour in the open-air’ and ‘he could make 15 or 16 pencil sketches to one colored’.7 Unusually in this work, there does not appear to be any pencil underdrawing. Instead Turner has created clear edges such as the line of mountains with careful application of watercolour. The use of blue to describe the distant mountains is reminiscent of the aerial perspective of the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. In the foreground, the textural effect of rough grassy hillocks has been achieved by manipulating the wet paint with fingers and fingerprints are visible in several places. Turner has also lifted areas of wet paint, possibly with the end of the brush, to create pale gestural lines.
Ashby 1925, between pp.18–19.
Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.120–2.
Letter to John Soane from his son, 15 November 1819, quoted in Powell 1987, p.50.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 42 (see the concordance in the introduction).
Blank, save for inscriptions by unknown hands in pencil ‘27’ centre right and ‘CLXXXVII 42’ bottom right; stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII. 42’ and Turner Bequest monogram bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
March 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Roman Campagna, East of the City, with Monte Velino in the Distance 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2009, 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-the-roman-campagna-east-of-the-city-with-monte-velino-in-the-r1132393, accessed 25 June 2024.