Another Turner for the Getty

1. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
Modern Rome – Campo Vacino, 1838-1839
Oil on canvas - 90.2 x 122 cm
Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : Sotheby’s Londres

9/8/10 – Acquisition – Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum – Last 7 July, at an auction at Sotheby’s London, the Getty Museum purchased a Turner painting, Modern Rome – Campo Vacino, for almost 30 million pounds [1].

This is the last representation of the city painted by the artist, in 1838-1839. It was executed from memory, based on Turner’s sketches while in Rome which he visited twice, in 1819 and 1828. The view is the panorama seen from the Capitol over the Forum, blending modern Rome, illustrated by Baroque buildings such as the church of Saint Luke and Saint Martin by Pietro da Cortone on the left or Saint John Lateran, glimpsed in the background, and antique Rome with notably on the right the columns of Vespasian’s temple and the temple of Saturn, on the left the top of the Arch of Septimius Severus, in the back the temple of Castor and Pollux and further still the Coliseum…Except for the goat herders and their children, today replaced by modern tourists [2], the scene is practically the same as now.

The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 as a pair for Ancient Rome – Agrippina Arriving with Germanicus’ Ashes today held at the Tate Britain. Although the influence of Claude Lorrain is still palpable in the composition here as well as in the use of ruins, the atmosphere created by Turner is an entirely different one. The dissolving light and colours confer a misty aura to the painting, both romantic and a bit unreal.
The Getty already owns a work by Turner, acquired in 1993, as well as two watercolours. Interestingly enough, the canvas from Sotheby’s had been on loan by its owner to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1978, proving once again that the Getty always prefers to purchase paintings which have hung in a museum before auction, after returning from a deposit or following a restitution to rightful heirs (see news item of 1/4/08).

Didier Rykner, lundi 9 août 2010


[1] 29.721.259 pounds, including charges.

[2] The title Modern Rome in fact refers more to the contemporary scene it depicts rather than to the monuments.

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