John Mallord William Turner, R.A. (British, 1775-1851)
Provenance Samuel Solomon Joseph; by descent to Laura Armstrong, née Joseph; by descent to the present owners
Engraved by J. Byrne, 1819, for James Hakewill's Picturesque Tour of Italy, pl.24.
Literature Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p.74. W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Vol 1, 1908, no.151, p.82. Andrew Wilton, The Life and Works of J.M.W. Turner, 1979, p.383, no.707.
The present watercolour depicts a view of Rome with the pyramid tomb of Caius Sestus. In the centre of the composition is the tomb where Keats and Shelley were buried only a few years after Turner painted this view. The cemetary is surrounded on three sides by trees and on the other by the ruined walls of Rome. A picnic party can be seen to the left of the picture and further down the hill, figures make their way towards the city.
This watercolour is one of a series which was commissioned for James Hakewill's Picturesque Tour of Italy of 1818-20. Hakewill came from an artistic family and was himself an architect and topographical draughtsman. In the spring of 1816, Hakewell travelled to Italy with his wife, returning a year later with over three hundred pencil sketches taken from nature and the idea of producing a book. He commissioned Turner and a number of other artists to turn these drawings into watercolours.
Turner's Hakewill views were enormously admired in their own time. Examples of the watercolours and engravings appeared in public collections in the 1820s and 1830s and strongly influenced other artists. In the 1870s Ruskin wrote of the series as presenting 'the mind of Turner in its consummate power' (John Ruskin, Notes by Mr Ruskin on his Collection of Drawings by the late J.M.W. Turner, R.A.,1878, pp. 23-8) and in 1878 he included seven of these scenes in an exhibition of his collection of Turner watercolours. Perhaps of greater significance however, was the fact that the Hakewill series inspired Turner to make his own visit to Italy in 1819.
Another watercolour by Turner of 'The Walls of Rome with the Tomb of Caius Sestus' c.1833 was used as the title vignette to Volume XII of The Life and Works of Lord Byron and was used again in Finden's Landscape Illustrations, part XII.