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Forum RomanumEnlarge image

Forum Romanum, 1818

J.M.W. Turner (after James Hakewill)
British, 1775 - 1851
watercolour over traces of graphite on wove paper, laid down on wove paper
14 x 21.6 cm
Gift of F.J. Nettlefold, Nutley, Sussex, England, 1948
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4920)

In 1818 the architect James Hakewill asked Turner to make watercolours of twenty of his pencil outlines of Italy to be engraved for a deluxe publication, even though the latter had not yet visited Italy himself. Turner transformed Hakewill's few wispy pencil lines into a gloriously dramatic cloud-filled sky, then populated his rather empty foreground with the very lively staffage of an archaeological excavation. Saturated with the paintings of Claude, Richard Wilson, and J.R. Cozens, and literature from the ancients to Byron,Turner created a dreamland Italy with bright colours and a turquoise sky. His watercolours were so compelling that the great Victorian critic John Ruskin was quite understandably convinced that Turner had painted them all on the spot.

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