New Acquisition of
The Courtauld Gallery is delighted to announce the acquisition of an important watercolour by J.M.W. Turner, Rome from San Pietro in Montorio. The watercolour was allocated to The Courtauld under the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme (AIL) which allows items deemed to be national treasures to be given to the nation in place of inheritance tax. The work comes from the estate of Dorothy Scharf, whose outstanding collection of British watercolours, including eight Turners, was bequeathed to the Courtauld in 2007. This group will be a highlight of the Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition Paths to Fame: Turner Watercolours from The Courtauld (30 October 2008 – 20 January 2009).
Rome from San Pietro in Montorio is one of eight watercolours which Turner painted for his close friend and major patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall in 1820-21, in celebration of his first visit to Italy in 1819. They are enormously important in Turner’s oeuvre as they reflect his responses to the beauty, grandeur, light and colour of Italy. One is an Alpine scene, two show Venice and one depicts the Bay of Naples. The other four all capture Turner’s excitement at the experience of Rome where he had spent the best part of three months, making an intensive study of its art, architecture and environs. In two he concentrates on the most awe-inspiring buildings of ancient and modern Rome (the Colosseum and St Peter’s), while in the other two he shows extensive prospects of the city from popular westerly vantage points: in the present work Rome is seen from the southern part of the Janiculum, in the other from Monte Mario.
Turner only paid two visits to Rome and made very few finished watercolours of the city. Apart from those mentioned, he executed only a handful of others, all of much smaller size and all commissioned as illustrations to poetry. The works of 1820-1 are the most eloquent testimony in watercolour to Turner’s lifelong fascination with the eternal city. Rome from San Pietro in Montorio constitutes an outstanding addition to The Courtauld’s Turner collection in which, crucially, Italy is not currently represented.