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Rome, from Mount Aventine

About the item

Rome, from Mount Aventine


Oil on canvas, unlined


Joseph Mallord William Turner


This condition report was supplied by Simon Howell of Shepherd Conservation, an independent conservator who is not employed by Sotheby's. This view of Rome is thought to have been commissioned by Munro of Novar between 1828 and 1829 and then exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836. The painting then entered the collection of the Earl of Rosebery in 1878, passing down through his descendants until the present day. Its history is intimately bound up with another painting by Turner, Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839, that was also acquired by the Earl of Rosebery in the same year as this view of Rome. Although provenance rarely forms part of a conservation report, its singular brevity indicates a continuity of care that is rarely seen in such an important painting. This is born out by even a cursory inspection of the painting, which reveals a work in extraordinary condition – almost untouched since leaving the artist studio somewhere in excess of 178 years ago. The exceptional importance of the painting from a conservation standpoint lies in the fact that it has never been lined, it has remained untouched on its original canvas and there is no evidence that it has ever been cleaned. In addition, it has remained behind glass within the same frame for most of its life, allowing the colours to retain a glow that must compare favourably with their original vibrancy. There has been some debate about the genesis of this painting, whether it was begun during Turner's tour of Italy in 1828-9 using local materials or later on his return to London. Various small clues, developed in this report, give more credence to the former but there is no reason why it could not have been begun in Italy and then completed in his studio. The first piece of evidence is the stretcher to which the canvas is attached; it is fashioned from an unusual timber possibly chestnut and not the straight-grained pine that one would normally expect from an early 19th Century British stretcher. While the keyed mortise and tenon joints are conventional, the rough wooden construction is not. Each bar seems to have been finished using an adze or gouge rather than a plane and this is certainly more typical of a local Italian craftsman than the product of a London colourman. While idiosyncratic in its manufacture, it has stood the test of time and provides a good support for the artist's canvas. It now nobly bears all the hallmarks of its great age, with many layers of paper tape, together with an array of labels, newspaper fragments and inscriptions. The stretcher has been 'keyed out' or the joints extended, so that it is now almost half an inch larger in both its height and width, (giving an original dimension of approximately 36 x 49 ins). Extending the joints has caused the corners of the canvas to distort and become slightly abraded. This has required the turnover edges at the four corners to be re-enforced with a thin layer of nylon gossamer that has been impregnated with a heat-seal adhesive. The method of fixing the canvas to the stretcher is particularly interesting in that 'sprigs' have been used rather than conventional iron tacks. These are short lengths of wire that are driven into the edge of the stretcher along with the canvas and then bent over to lie flush against the tacking margins of the canvas. The use of 'sprigs' is particular to Italy and while not absolute proof, they do lend credence to the theory that the canvas was stretched in Italy. Four pin-holes are visible in the four corners of the canvas and seem to have been inserted through semi-dry paint. It is unlikely that these occurred during the stretching process but they may form part of a perspectival devise or as a means of attaching spacers between several canvases during transport. Turning to the artist's canvas support, the issue of the structure's origin becomes more complicated. Turner has used a finely woven canvas that is very similar to that used for Modern Rome:Campo Vaccino – a quality that is not typical of canvas normally obtainable in Italy at the time. No doubt as a conservation measure, the canvas has been primed on the verso with a thin layer of brick-red paint, (possibly red-lead). There is also evidence that the canvas was pre-prepared with a white ground before it was stretched. This is shown by a set of additional tack holes that held the canvas before it was coated with a priming. Further evidence for this is that the priming extends beyond the edges of the present stretcher ending in a 'barbe' or raised edge where the paint material has become thicker as it passes over the edge of a stretcher. There are therefore two 'barbes', the first where the lower priming ends and the second corresponding to the present stretcher edge. From this we can deduce that the canvas was prepared in advance on a different stretcher and then re-stretched before painting. The 'drape' of the canvas has the typical undulation that one would expect from an un-lined canvas of this period. White drips flowing down the verso of the canvas suggest that water may have leaked onto the painting at some stage in its history but has fortunately not adversely affected either the canvas or the paint surface. There is a small tear in the canvas in the upper right of the sky, (1.5cm long) that has the remains of a glue repair on the verso. There is also a small spot just to the left of the pine tree near the horizon where there may have been a slight impact during the painting's history. This has not broken the paint surface but there is some old glue in this location on the verso that seems to correspond with a network of radiating cracks. Finally, there are two small flake losses each about 1mm in diameter, in the middle of the sky. The verso of the canvas where these flakes occur is obscured by the vertical stretcher bar, but it is possible that they might also involve a break in the canvas weave. The initial white ground has been mentioned above, but drips of a further white paint layer can be seen around the tacking margins. There is therefore the possibility that Turner applied a second ground before commencing his design. Again, this might indicate that the first layer was not his own and needed to be further refined to provide a surface with the correct degree of tooth and absorbency before he could commence painting. Infra-Red examination reveals that there are some brief drawing lines, following the horizon and the perspective of the buildings along the Tiber. However, this is more by way of positioning marks, as the evolution of the design occurs substantially through the process of painting itself. The artist demonstrates a bravura exhibition of paint technique, whether in terms of dry brush scumbles to form the spatial recession of the distant buildings or thin translucent glazes for the foreground. Going back to the earlier discussion regarding the development of the painting, it is apparent from an examination of the paint structure that it was worked on over a number of sessions. The exact time intervals are difficult to determine, but marks in the sky seem to go over areas of old crackelure suggesting that the paint layer was substantially dry before the final layers were applied. This would mean that some months could have elapsed between sessions and speculation that it was completed on his arrival back in London in 1829 is entirely feasible. For example, the final dabs of cloud along the top and right edge seem to have been applied on top of a fully dried paint film. In Ultra-violet light it appears to fluoresce very differently to the surrounding paint of the sky and one can surmise that these accents may have been some of the last touches by the artist. The shadow of the tree is built up to a palpable thickness, culminating in the dark russet-brown branches. Again, these fluoresce differently in Ultra-violet light, suggesting that they were completed using a slightly different medium or at a different time-period. An amusing observation is found along the top edge where the artist's finger-prints are visible in the final glaze of dark paint, providing corroboration of contemporary commentators who remarked on the artist's impatience and speed of execution. The condition of the paint layer is extraordinary in that every brush stroke is clear and crisp and even the dark tones of the composition do not suffer from the thinning that is unfortunately so evident in many paintings from this period. Age cracks have developed in the sky and in the lower right of the composition but these are not visually disturbing. The remaining features of note associated with the condition is a retouched loss in the lower left corner and a small number of flake losses around the very edge of the canvas as it folds over the edge of the stretcher. The retouching is found in the water just above the boat and is approximately 1cm in diameter. It looks as if the canvas sustained a blow that caused a crease or score mark together with the loss of paint. A further area to mention is along the far right edge in the sky, just above the horizon, where there is a section of paint that shows up in Ultra violet light as a retouching. The area is about 1cm by 5cm and is almost invisible to the naked eye except under strong lighting conditions, but appears to be an old paint loss that has been expertly restored. Examination of the painting in 2009 by Jacqueline Ridge for the exhibition Turner and Italy, revealed that, 'the finished paintings have never had a complete layer of varnish applied either by Turner himself or a later hand'. Certainly, there is no sense of a discoloured layer resting on the surface, neither is there any evidence of a film of dirt due no doubt to the precaution of exhibiting the painting behind glass. However, the colours remain fully saturated with a variety of gloss and matte layers. One can therefore only presume that as documented, Turner locally varnished passages to develop a variety of gloss and matte according to their tone and position within the composition. The high quality of the composition, historical importance and breathtaking conservation condition go hand in hand to form a painting that is now one of exemplary importance, not just for students of Turner but for the art of painting as a whole. Simon Howell, 9th September 2014 1. The adhesive is likely to be Beva 371. 2. Jacqueline Ridge, 'The Rosebury Turners' in, Turner & Italy, National Galleries of Scotland 2009 note 4. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."


92.7 by 125.7 cm.; 36 1/2  by 49 1/2  in.


London, Royal Academy, 1836, no. 144; London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1896, no. 8 (lent by the 5th Earl of Rosebery); London, Whitechapel, JMW Turner, RA., 1953, no. 89; London, Tate Gallery and Royal Academy, Turner, 1974-5, no. 515; Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Turner e l’Italia, 16 November 2008 – 22 February 2009, no. 93; Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Turner and Italy, 27 March – 7 June 2009, no. 93; Budapest, Museum of Fine Art, Turner and Italy, 15 July – 15 August 2009, no. 93; On long term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1978 – 2013 .


J. Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. I, 1843; ‘The Collection of H. A. J. Munro, Esq., of Novar, No. 113, Park-Street, Grosvenor Square,’ in Art Union, vol. 9, London July 1847, p. 253; J. Ruskin, Praeterita, 1886-9; J. Burnet and P. Cunningham, Turner and his Works, London 1852, pp. 29 & 117, no. 188; W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2 vols., London 1862, vol. I, pp. 231-2; W. Frost, A.R.A. (revised by H. Reeve), A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Water-Colour Drawings, Drawings and Prints in the Collection of the late Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro Esq of Novar, at the time of his Death deposited in his House No. 6 Hamilton Place London with some Additional Paintings at Novar, privately printed 1865, p. 95, no. 121; W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., second ed., 2 vols., London 1877, pp. 105 & 578; C. F. Bell, A List of the Works contributed to Public Exhibitions by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1901, p. 130, no. 201; Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London and New York 1902, pp. 120 & 228; E. T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, Library Edition in thirty nine volumes, 1903-12, vol. III, pp. xviii, 636 n.; xxxv, p. 217; i, p. xxxiii; A. J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed. revised by H.F. Finberg, Oxford 1961, pp. 359 & 400, no. 469; J. Lindsay, J.M.W. Turner, His Life and Work: A Critical Biography, New York 1966, p. 182; J. Gage, ‘Turner’s Academic Friendships: C.L. Eastlake’, in The Burlington Magazine, vol. cx, 1968, p. 682; G. Reynolds, Turner, London 1969, pp. 150 & 168; M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London 1977, text vol., p. 217, no. 366, plates vol., reproduced in colour pl. 344; A. Wilton, The Life and Work of JMW Turner, London 1979, p. 282, no. P366; M. Kitson, ‘Turner and Claude’, in Turner Studies, vol. II, no. 2, Winter 1983, pp. 10 & 14; E. Joll, M. Butlin and G. Verchi, l’opera complete di Turner 1820-1851, Milan 1982, p. 198, no 402, reproduced; M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, Revised Edition, New Haven and London 1984, text vol., p. 217, no. 366, plates vol., reproduced in colour pl. 370; A. Wilton, Turner in his Time, London 1987, pp. 187 & 206; C. Powell, Turner in the South. Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp. 7, 37, 106, 160, 164 & 165, reproduced fig. 159; J. Holloway, ‘H A J Munro of Novar’, in Review of Scottish Culture, no. 7, Edinburgh 1991, pp. 10-11, reproduced, fig. 1; J. Hamilton, Turner, A Life, London 1997, p. 271; I. Warrell et al., J. M. W. Turner, exhibition catalogue, London 2008, p. 152; J. Hamilton, et al., Turner & Italy, Edinburgh 2009, pp. 87, 89 & 129-134, reproduced in colour, pl. 93, and details pls. 143-148, and p. 78; I. Warrell, Turner's Sketchbooks, London 2014, p. 146.   


Commissioned by Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar (1797-1864); By family descent until sold (‘The Novar Collection formed by that distinguished amateur, the late Hugh A.J. Munro, Esq. The intimate friend and Executor of JMW Turner RA.’), London, Christie’s, 6 April 1878, lot 98, to Davis for 5850 guineas (on behalf of the 5th Earl of Rosebery and his wife Hannah Rothschild); Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), Prime Minister of Great Britain (1894-1895); Thence by family descent.


Property from the Collection formed by the 5th Earl of Rosebery


London 1775 - 1851

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.