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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook 1819

Turner Bequest CXC
Sketchbook with paper covered boards bound with a red leather spine, and a brass clasp
67 leaves of white wove writing paper, approximate page size 130 x 255 mm
Made by William Balston, Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent; various pages watermarked ‘J WHATMAN | 1814’.
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘856’ top centre, front cover
Stamped in black ‘CXC’ top right
Inside front cover inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CXC’ top centre left and stamped in black ‘CXC’ top left
Outside back cover (D40758) inscribed by the artist in black ink ‘Roma’ bottom right, inverted
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner used this sketchbook during his first tour of Italy in 1819, one of twenty-three related to that trip. The book contains studies of various subjects in Rome, many of which are executed over a washed grey background. It is one of nine sketchbooks employed during his stay in the city, which aside from some weeks spent travelling to Naples and Paestum, lasted between early October to December or early January 1820.1 The title of the book, Small Roman C. Studies, follows Turner’s own handwritten label ‘9. Roma: C. Studies;’2 and Ruskin’s wrapper description ‘No.255 Invent. Small Romans’.3
Unlike the Italian sketches which Turner produced en route between destinations, the material documenting his exploration of Rome does not follow an easily traceable itinerary around the city. Instead the artist seems to have employed several books simultaneously, interchanging different formats and types of papers according to his artistic intent, and to whichever came most readily to hand at any given moment. However, the majority of the subject matter within this sketchbook falls into one of five main groups: the Forum and the Palatine; views from the Janiculum Hill; views from Monte Mario; the Pincian Hill; and the River Tiber north of the city.
The ‘C’ in the title of this sketchbook, and the Naples: Rome C. Studies and Rome: C. Studies sketchbooks, has been frequently interpreted in the past as meaning ‘Colour’, referring to the use of watercolour to develop some of the studies within. Alternatively, it may stand for ‘Chiarascuro’, reflecting the numerous tonal drawings employing pencil and white highlights over a washed grey background.4 However, Cecilia Powell has plausibly suggested that the ‘C’ might also be interpreted as ‘Composition’, since all of the relevant books contain carefully structured subjects which could be intended for further development, or which relate to later finished watercolours and oils.5 In his manuscript notes for the ‘First Draft of a Catalogue of Drawings Recommended for Oxford, 31 July 1878’ (National Gallery Library) Ruskin wrote of the sketchbook, ‘I can make sense of it all and nobody else can.’6 He later described it as containing studies ‘any one of which he [Turner] could, if he had chosen, have wrought into a picture’.7
The other sketchbooks containing Roman subjects are Tivoli and Rome (CLXXIX), Vatican Fragments (CLXXX), Albano, Nemi, Rome (CLXXXII), Naples: Rome C. Studies (CLXXXVII), St Peter’s (CLXXXVIII), Rome: C. Studies (CLXXXIX), Rome and Florence sketchbook (CXCI) and Remarks (Italy) (CXCIII) (all Tate, Turner Bequest). Despite its title, the Naples, Paestum and Rome (CLXXXVI) sketchbook does not appear to contain any views of the city and the Route to Rome sketchbook (CLXXI) contains notes but no identified sketches.
Recorded by Finberg 1909, p.564; now detached from the sketchbook.
See Andrew Wilton’s entry in J.M.W. Turner, à l’occasion du cinquantième anniversaire du British Council, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, October 1983–January 1984, pp.218–20.
Powell 1987, p.44.
Ian Warrell, ‘R.N. Wornum and the First Three Loan Collections: A History of the Early Display of the Turner Bequest Outside London, Turner Studies, vol.11, no.1, summer 1991, p.38 note 6
John Ruskin, ‘Catalogue of the Turner Sketches in the National Gallery’, London 1857, reproduced in E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (eds.), Library Edition: The Works of John Ruskin: Volume XIII: Turner: The Harbours of England; Catalogues and Notes, London 1904, p.306.

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

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How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook 1819’, sketchbook, June 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/small-roman-c-studies-sketchbook-r1132493, accessed 14 June 2024.