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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Roman Campagna with Monte Gennaro in the Distance 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Roman Campagna with Monte Gennaro in the Distance 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 41
Watercolour on white wove paper, 259 x 406 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 41’ 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, D16130–D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–35, 42–43, 45). Finberg identified the subject of this work as Monte Gennaro, one of the peaks of the Sabine mountains which lie beyond the town of Palombara to the north-east of Rome and north of Tivoli. Turner has delineated the distinctive profile of the mountain rising above the plain of the Campagna.1 The isolated vertical structure in the middle distance is possibly a tower or other building.
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.2 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.3 The landscapes he depicts are 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’.4 In this work, Turner has used broad washes of liquid paint applied to a wet ground to create subtle, hazy effects. The paint in the foreground has been energetically manipulated to describe areas of trees and vegetation with possible use of gum arabic to make the paint a thicker consistency and to preserve the tracks of the artist’s fingers. The watercolour has faded due to over–exposure. Narrow strips protected by a mount or frame along the edges of the picture reveal that the foreground was originally considerably darker and more intensely coloured. Similarly the band of yellow pigment in the centre would have been much brighter. Andrew Wilton has pointed to a possible connection with a better preserved colour beginning study which is similar in composition and technique (see Tate D25146; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 24).5
A similar distant view of the mountain can be found in the background above the Palazzo Barberini in Giuseppe Vasi’s etching, Grand View of Rome 1765, see Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, reproduced inner back cover.
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 Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, p.50.
Wilton 1975, p.56 under no.73.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 41 (see the concordance in the introduction). There is another drawing, not recorded by Finberg, on the verso (D40079).

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Roman Campagna with Monte Gennaro in the Distance 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, February 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-with-monte-gennaro-in-the-distance-r1132391, accessed 22 May 2024.