Joseph Mallord William Turner, RA (British, 1775-1851)
Antiquities of Pola signed 'TURNER' (lower left) watercolour with traces of pencil, scratching out and gum arabic 17 x 27cm (6 11/16 x 10 5/8in).
PROVENANCE: Collection of James Rivington Wheeler reputedly from the artist; By descent to Henry James Wheeler; Collection of Captain Herbert Reginald Ray; By descent to Gertude Emma Hunt; Collection of Alfred Llewellyn Wheeler.
EXHIBITED: New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Victor Hugo and the Romantic Vision, Drawings and Watercolours, 4 May-27 July 1990; cat. no. 38, p.90; ill p.51. London, Waterman Fine Art Ltd, 20 May 1992.
LITERATURE: Walter Armstrong, Turner, (1902), p.272; Cecillia Powell, Turner Studies, Turners Antiquities at Pola: The art of construction practically arranged, (vol. 4, 1984), no. 1, p. 39-43. Edward Yardley, Turner Studies, The Turner Collector: That magnificent gentleman - James Rivington Wheeler, (vol. 6, 1986), no. 2, p. 56, 58.
In 1817 Turner embarked on a series of journeys across Europe that would both enlighten and encourage his future career as an artist. From Osted, via Bruges, Ghent and Brussels he first travelled along the Rhine before moving south to start a long awaited trip to Italy. In preparation for this journey, Turner took on a commission to produce a series of watercolours for engravings to tempt the post-Waterloo tourist market. The architect and draughtsman James Hakewill (1778-1843) encouraged Turner to produce the watercolours, which were based on his own run-of-the-mill sketches of famous Italian views. Turner himself had no first-hand knowledge of the artefacts and monuments he was sketching but rather composed them to match how he hoped they would look and how he had visualised them both in his own imagination and through the work of fellow artists.
At about the same time, another architect and draughtsman Thomas Allason (1790-1852) commissioned Turner to produce one image only as a frontispiece for Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Pola, in Istria. Like the Hakewill commission, Turner had not been to Pola but he knew Aosta, a remarkably similar Roman city set, like Pola, on the fringes of Roman Italy. Aosta had an amphitheatre, temples and a great triumphal arch, and like Pola, its carved stones and inscriptions were scattered about the ground. The present lot shows the Temple of Augustus on the left, the Amphitheatre of Pola in the centre and the Arch of Sergii to the right. Turner's depiction of these buildings, though imaginary in their juxtaposition, was based on first-hand knowledge, experience and mature recall.
Both the Hakewill and Allason commissions were valuable practice for Turner before he could take on much larger and more muscular works intended for exhibition. One such work was Landscape: Composition of Tivoli which was exhibited alongside Raby Castle, Dort and The field of Waterloo at the 1818 Academy exhibition.