Lot 57
  • 57

Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.

12,000,000 - 18,000,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
  • Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino
  • Oil on canvas (unlined), held in the original plaster gilt and glazed frame
  • 35 ½ by 48 in. 90.2 by 122 cm.


Hugh A. J Munro of Novar, (c. 1797-1864), acquired from the artist at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1839;
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.," Christie's, London, 6th April 1878, lot 99 (bt. Davis on behalf of Archibald, 5th Earl of Rosebery and his new wife Hannah, née Rothschild for 4,450 gns.);
Archibald, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), Prime Minister (1894-5);
by family descent


London, Royal Academy, 1839, no. 70;
London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1896, no. 8;
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, JMW Turner RA, 1953, no. 91;
London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Byron, 1974, no. S39;
London, Tate Gallery and Royal Academy, Turner, 1974-75, no. 517;
London, Tate Gallery, Turner and Byron, 1992, no. 37;
Bristol, City Museum and Art Gallery, Imagining Rome, 1996, no. 11;
Essen, Museum Folkwang, William Turner, Licht und Faber, 2001, no. 194;
Washington, National Gallery of Art, JMW Turner, 2007-8, no. 118;
Ferrara, Edinburgh and Budapest, Turner and Italy, 2009-2010, no. 94;
Edinburgh, on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland since 1978 (apart from the exhibitions mentioned above)


J. Burnet and P Cunningham, Turner and His Works, London 1852, pp. 29, 118 no. 199;
W. Thornbury, The Life of JMW Turner, RA, London 1862, Vol. I, p. 232, Vol. II, p. 400;
W. Frost ARA, A Complete Catalogue of Paintings in the collection of the late HAJ Munro Esq of Novar, privately printed 1865, p. 95, no. 135;
W. Thornbury, The Life of JMW Turner RA, London 1877, pp. 105, 579;
P. G. Hamerton, The Life of JMW Turner RA, Philadelphia 1879, p. 279;
C. F. Bell, A List of the Works contributed to Public Exhibitions by JMW Turner, London 1901, pp. 130, 236-7, no. 201 (also under 214);
Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London 1902, pp. 121, 228;
A.J. Finberg, The Life of JMW Turner, London 1961, pp. 373, 502, no. 484;
J. Rothenstein and M. Butlin, Turner, London 1964, pp. 12, 56;
J. Gage, 'Turner's Academic Friendships: CL Eastlake' Burlington Magazine, Vol. CX, London 1968, p. 682;
L. Herrman, Turner: Paintings, Watercolours, Prints and Drawings, Oxford 1975, p. 47;
M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of JMW Turner, New Haven 1977, Text Vol., pp. 366, 378-379, Plates Vol., pl. 355;
A. Wilton, JMW Turner, London 1979, p. 284, no. P.379;
W. Vaughan, 'Landscape and the Irony of Nature,' Art History, Vol. II, London 1979, pp. 471-2;
M. Kitson, 'Turner and Claude' Turner Studies, Vol. II, London 1983, pp. 10.14;
E. Joll and M. Butlin, L'Opera Completa di Turner, Milan 1982, no. 440;
M. Butlin and E. Joll, Paintings of JMW Turner, New Haven 1984, Text Vol., p. 232, no. 379, Plates Vol., pl. 383;
J. Gage, JMW Turner, A Wonderful Range of Mind, New Haven 1987, fig 36, pp. 56, 58;
K. Nicholson, Turner's Classical Landscape: Myth and Meaning, Princeton1990, pp. 119-123;
J. Egerton, Making and Meaning, Turner The Fighting Temeraire, London 1995, pp. 80, 84;
J. Egerton, The British School, London 1998, p. 312;
C. Baker, Turner's Italy, Edinburgh 2009, pp. 21-24, pl. 15


This condition report is provided by Simon Howell, a Director of R.M.S. Shepherd Associates, an independent fine art conservation studio.It is a rare pleasure to be presented with a painting over 170 years old, that has beenpreserved in such exceptional condition; In addition a painting from the hand ofsuch an extraordinary technician as J.M.W.Turner. This is in part attributable to itshaving been bought directly from the Royal Academy sale in 1839 and remainingin only two collections since then - but also that it has always been kept enclosedwithin its glazed frame and protected with a backboard.The artist has chosen to paint on a finely woven linen canvas that has beenstretched onto a traditional wooden stretcher. The stretcher is distinctive for itshigh quality of materials and construction, being of straight-grained timber andassembled with considerable craftsmanship. There is however, no colourman'sstamp on the stretcher that might indicate where it was made. Three of theoriginal stretcher keys have been replaced, but otherwise, it remains in excellentcondition. The fact that all the primary tack holes correspond to holes in thestretcher suggest that it is likely to be original to the painting. An interestingfeature of the stretcher is that nails have been driven into its outside edge, nodoubt as an early system to secure the painting in its frame.One would have expected to find that a painting of this age would have requiredlining to support the original canvas. Again, the framing system has protected theoriginal canvas. This effect has been further enhanced by the artist's decision to painton a canvas that was itself protected by a loose lining or additional canvas coveringthe back of the original material. That this loose lining material appears to be thesame as the original canvas, further corroborates the belief that this was a decisionmade by Turner and should therefore be considered as an integral part of the originalwork. We can be confident that this is indeed a loose lining (as opposed to a normallining where glue is used to adhere the two canvases together) because the twocanvases are not glued together around the tacking margins and there is a palpableseparation between the two canvases over the main body of the painting. Other thana small blemish in sky – the canvas remains in plain and of course has the naturaldrape that one associates with an un-lined painting.Examining the tacking margins, it is possible to deduce that the canvas was initiallyprepared with a ground while attached to a larger stretcher, (Approximately 1cmtop and bottom). Once fully dry, the prepared canvas was attached to the present stretcher. This is shown by secondary tack holes outside the present line that wenow see and by the ground layer that only extends half-way across the tackingmargin, ending in a 'barbe' or ridge of paint where the ground was brushed overthe edge of the former, larger stretcher.The ground layer is white – typical for the artist at this period – discolouringto a cream colour consistent with the age of the painting. The landscape andbuildings have a reddish fawn coloured layer directly on top of the whiteground, no doubt as an initial laying in of the main design features. As withso many of Turner's paintings - the layer structure of the painting is highlycomplex. Fortunately, the loose lining has protected the structure from excessivechanges in climate that can lead to age cracks that so impair a viewer'sappreciation of a painting. There are only some fine cracks that can be foundin the upper left-hand corner of the blue sky which are associated with themovement of the canvas towards the corner of stretcher.Although no under-drawing was visible in Infra-Red – the small figure climbingprecariously on a ladder leaning against a pillar, has been picked out in what looks to besome sort of graphite pencil. A pentimento of the setting sun can be seen as a slightlythicker circle of paint, just to the right and below the present position of the sun.There are four pin-holes through the paint and canvas in the four corners. It hasbeen plausibly speculated that these could either be associated with pins used forlines of perspective or where spacers were inserted to protect the wet painting whilestacked in his studio.1 They may originally have been hidden by the rebate of theframe and therefore not have been visible when first exhibited.The paint structure has become an extension of the artist's thought processes in thateach successive layer reveals and obscures forms by turns, until a final statement isreached. To harness this final illusion Turner has employed a multitude of painttechniques including, thick impasto, thin glazes, dry scumbles and dribbled glazes.The sophistication of his technique has been well documented and this paintingmust surely represent a virtuoso performance by a great master. For example, theblue paint of the sky has been smoothed with a rag or finger to contrast withthe high impasto of the clouds and setting sun; the solidity of the foregroundbuildings are enhanced with thick and multi-layered paint; the atmosphericperspective is created with veils of translucent glazes. On the tacking margin,drips of translucent brown glaze have run from the surface of the painting andattest to the delicacy and precision of the atmospheric effects he was attemptingto capture. The full range of textures, from sharp impasto to smooth and butteryglazes, remain as the artist intended.The drying process of this complex structure has inevitably caused some movementbetween the layers. This effect can be seen particularly in the lower left-hand corneras a network of smooth linear breaks in the paint layer. It is likely that these mayhave developed quite rapidly during the first few months after completion and it isinteresting to see that attempts have been made by the artist, to hide these cracks.For example, on the left a staff that has been extended with a spear tip – the latterwas added at a later date to hide a dribble of paint and other drying cracks. InUltra-Violet light the brown drawing lines and glazes of the figure group in the lower left are seen as being particularly dark when compared to the rest of thepainting. In normal circumstances one would be tempted to interpret these marksas being later retouching. However, in this case, with a more detailed examinationone can see that they are consistent with the rest of the painting and are designedboth to enhance the figure group and to hide the drying cracks that must havethreatened to mar the viewers enjoyment of the work. This view is confirmed whenone sees that the dark green foliage falling over the tomb in the foreground, is alsofrom a similar layer having the same appearance in Ultra-Violet light and includesall the calligraphic qualities that one associates with the artist. Turning to otherareas of the painting such as the sky and architecture, one can see that the artistmust have returned to this painting over many sessions and even when the lowerlayers had begun to dry and form drying cracks. We know from contemporaryaccounts that Turner used 'Varnishing day' to 'finish' his paintings and we see inthese final touches of foliage his almost physical involvement in the paintingprocess – they include scratched marks made with the hamper of the brush andfinger prints to lighten the effect of a glaze, (seen to the left of the stone tomb).It is interesting to compare Modern Rome: Campo Vaccino with its pendant,Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus, in Tate Britain.Both paintings contrast smooth paint in the sky with pronounced impasto for thebuildings and foreground details. Thick paint is invariably applied with a paletteknife, as in the clouds of both paintings. In both cases, where creamy whiteimpasto is found – it has been qualified with a glaze of grey. This effect can beseen clearly in each sun where a grey glaze affords a melancholy mood to scene.The foreground figures in both paintings have been emphasized with a paletteof red and brown glazes and in the Tate painting seems also to be painted overdrying cracks that have already formed. Finally, both paintings exhibit the samedribbles and veils of liquid paint that are so often used to provide the illusionof atmospheric perspective.An examination of the painting's edges reveals a history in miniature of thepainting process. There are at least two indentations made by the frame rebateinto the wet paint. The painting was completed and while still only semi-dry putinto a frame. The painting was then varnished while in this frame, (the paint inside this line remains unvarnished). There is no evidence that the painting hasever been re-varnished since the artist's original coating and as the painting hasremained behind glass for most of its life the surface retains the freshness of anew layer, with no discolouration or dirt.In summary therefore - Modern Rome: Campo Vaccino remains a remarkabletestimony to an artist whose technique combined the layering and glazingtechniques of the old masters while anticipating the immediacy and spontaneitythat fifty years later we would come to associate with the Impressionists.
"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."

Catalogue Note

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino is one of the greatest masterpieces by Britain's finest and most celebrated artist. With its extraordinary mastery of light and colour it looks forward to the experimental works of the last decade of the artist's life whilst also reflecting the inspiration which Turner derived from his great love of the Old Masters, notably Claude Lorraine. It marks the culmination of Turner's fascination with Italy, and particularly with Rome and his absorption of the strong light of Italy which underlies most of his great paintings of the last twenty years of his life. Turner felt a particular affinity with Rome with its potent contrast between the ancient city with the remains of its great imperial past and the modern city teeming with life and activity. This picture was his final depiction of that great city, the cradle of Western civilisation, and he undoubtedly poured into it his love for Italy, his memory of the dazzling light of a Roman summer and his vision of a new civilisation arising out of the remains of the old.

Turner has taken as his viewpoint the summit of the Capitoline Hill.  From here the scene unfolds as the spectator's eye is first drawn to the Forum, flanked by the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Temple of Saturn. Beyond the distinct shapes of familiar buildings come gradually into focus with the great arches of Diocletian's Baths lying to the left. Momentarily the eye comes to rest on the Colosseum, majestically dominating the middle distance of the composition, before being encouraged to search yet further as the artist conjures up the distant landscape surrounding the city with the silhouette of St John Lateran clearly visible on the skyline. In one great panorama, Turner combines both classical antiquity, the crumbling remains of ancient Rome, with the Rome of the Renaissance and Baroque, the seat of the Papacy. Daily life is also evoked with its goatherds, religious processions and people simply attending to their business, set against the glories of its past. It is above all, a painting which celebrates the atmosphere of the Eternal City.

The painting enjoys a most distinguished provenance, having been in the ownership of only two families since it was painted - firstly that of Turner's close friend and patron, Hugh Monro of Novar, and subsequently in the collection of the Earls of Rosebery, having been purchased in 1878 by the 5th Earl and his new wife, Hannah Rothschild, to celebrate their marriage. This remarkable history helps to explain the painting's exceptional condition. It has survived virtually untouched, still on its original canvas, its thick impasto and subtle glazes intact, giving us an extraordinarily rare, uncompromised view of Turner's technical genius.

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino was inspired by Turner's two visits to the city in 1819 and 1828. The cultural and political restoration of the city following the close of the Napoleonic Wars clearly informed Turner's  pictorial celebration. By the end of his ministry in 1823, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, the secretary of state, had succeeded in restoring the papacy to the strongest position in international affairs it had enjoyed for over a century. It was admired and respected by the whole of Europe; its relations with the Catholic powers had been restored and regulated by concordats and the principle of the political independence and neutrality of the Holy See had been upheld. Rome in the 1820s hummed with the busy and lucrative activity of artists who like pilgrims flocked to the city, the cultural capital of the world, from all parts of Europe. They streamed in from France, Spain and the German states, from Hungary, Poland and Russia, from Britain, Sweden and Denmark. Turner's two visits to Rome straddled this colourful decade when in the words of the Duchess of Devonshire, "Rome was more beautiful than ever."

Although his first proper visit to Italy did not take place until he was in his forties, Turner's fascination with that country  went back to the beginning of his career having already been fired by study of great works by Claude, notably the two Italian landscapes from the Altieri collection (fig. 1), that arrived in England in 1799, (National Trust, Anglesey Abbey), and by the Roman landscapes of his great predecessor Richard Wilson. He was also indebted to an early patron, Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), for encouraging his interest in Italy. Hoare had sketched extensively in Italy and Turner produced two views of Lake Avernus from these sketches and later provided illustrations for James Hakewill's Picturesque Tour of Italy. In 1818  Hakewill encouraged Turner's desire to visit Italy and passed to the artist a notebook with information about sites to see and practical advice on travelling there. Whilst the notebook covered different parts of Italy, Turner labelled it 'Route to Rome', and there is no doubt that Rome was his ultimate goal.

In July 1819, Sir Thomas Lawrence wrote home to the influential and well-connected diarist Joseph Farington: "Turner should come to Rome. His genius would here be supplied with materials, and entirely congenial with it ... He has an elegance, and often a greatness of invention, that wants a scene like this for its free expansion ... It is a fact, that the country and scenes around me, do thus impress themselves upon me; and that Turner is always associated with them."

Turner was of the same mind and aged forty four, set off on 31st July 1819, reaching Rome by late September. His first stay in the city is not well documented as he kept no journal, though, as Cecilia Powell points out, he may have stayed at Palazzo Poli by the Trevi Fountain from where his one surviving letter from this period was written, and where many British artists stayed. Turner spent his time continually walking the streets of Rome, familiarizing himself with all aspects of the city. He filled eight sketchbooks and made around one hundred and twenty watercolour and gouache drawings. These largely consist  of very detailed sketches of buildings and studies of the attractive, picturesque viewpoints, which abounded amongst the seven hills of the city. Both his range of media and the size of the sketchbooks varied widely. The sketchbooks ranged from 4 ½ by 3 ½ inches to 16 by 10 inches, the media ranged from pencil to watercolour, pen and ink and coloured chalk. His energies were concentrated as much on the remains of classical Rome and the Renaissance splendours. He also produced a number of watercolour studies which enabled him to record for  future use the unique brilliance of the Italian light (fig. 2). By 6th October Lawrence wrote home excitedly to Farington: "Mr Turner is come – I had the sincerest pleasure in seeing him for he is worthy of this fine City, of all the Elegance and Grandeur that it exhibits ... He feels the beauty of the Atmosphere & Scenery as I knew he would ... It is essential evidence of the truth of his Superiority, that his ablest Rival has never seemed to have a feeling of rivalry towards him and I am certain that neither of us Portrait Painters can say that of each other."

Turner returned to London on 1st February and was clearly so inspired by the splendours of Rome that he immediately set about  recreating his experience on a large scale.  Within an astonishingly brief time of only two months, he was able to complete Rome from the Vatican (Tate Gallery, London), one of his largest exhibited pictures. For this he made use of the comparatively large and detailed study, Rome from the Vatican Loggia (Tate Gallery, London) from the 1819 Rome trip, as the basis of the central portion of the composition.  Rome from the Vatican was his only exhibit in 1820, but was followed in 1823 by The Bay of Baiae (Tate Gallery, London) which with its depiction of ancient and modern Italy looks forward to Ancient Rome (Tate Britain, London) and the present work Modern Rome of 1839. The third and final large painting linked to his first journey to Italy, Forum Romanum (Tate Gallery, London), draws on studies from four different sketchbooks and looks forward to Modern Rome in its treatment of the remains of Rome's great imperial past. Other fruits of this first trip to Rome included a group of eight watercolours executed for his great patron Walter Fawkes, four of which were of Roman subjects including the view of Rome from Monte Mario (also offered in this sale).

By August 1828 Turner left England to visit Italy and Rome again. He arrived in early October; Rome was as lively as ever. Among the painters who were in residence were the Briton Joseph Severn, the Bavarian Wenzel Peter and the Frenchman Jean-Baptist Wicar. Among sculptors John Gibson, Joseph Gott and George Rennie had remained in Rome since his previous visit. Thorvaldsen, at his studio in the Piazza Barberini, had taken Canova's place as the greatest living Roman sculptor, while Gibson's practice had expanded to four studios off the Via Babuino. Turner's second stay in the city was totally different to the first in so far as he did very little sketching but worked instead on full size oil paintings. During his whole six month visit he used only ten small sketchbooks, eight of which covered his outward journey and all of which contained only pencil sketches. We know that during this second visit Turner lodged at 12 Piazza Magnanelli near the Spanish Steps, near where Keats lived and where Eastlake had been based since 1819, and from here he showed three oil paintings in rooms near the Quattro Fontane – Vision of Medea (Tate Gallery, London), Regulus (Tate Gallery, London) and View of Orvieto (Tate Gallery, London). He was  demonstrating  his versatility by exhibiting a figure painting, a marine subject, and a landscape. The exhibition was viewed by over a thousand visitors late in December. Turner also worked on his ambitious large scale Palestrina (Tate Gallery, London) in Rome, as well as painting a substantial group of smaller oil sketches many of which were left unfinished.

Turner left Rome on 3rd January 1829 never to return – with a blunt, faint pencil he wrote a final poetic elegy in a sketchbook. It is practically illegible, but some words, if not their sense, can be made out: 'Farewell a second time the Land of all Bliss / that cradled liberty could wish and hope / ... Why go then. No gentle traveller / Cross thy path ... / The yellow brimm'd Tiber / ... lost ... of Imperial Rome.' The essence of these words is to be found in the greatest of his Roman works- Modern Rome, Campo Vaccino.

Following his return to London, Turner exhibited a number of paintings which drew on his experience of the city, but relied more on his memory and his imagination than on the detailed studies. In the Arch of Constantine (Tate Gallery, London), for example, there is almost no architectural detail and the whole composition is a recollection in outline only, painted entirely from memory. The exception was Rome from Mount Aventine, exhibited in 1836, which drew specifically on a panorama of the city from the 1828-9 trip, having been commissioned by Hugh Munro of Novar as a record of the city. For Monro's other great Roman purchase, the present painting Modern Rome, Turner certainly made use of the many sketches made of the Forum in 1819. Three drawings from the Albano - Nemi, sketchbook (Turner Bequest CLXXXII, numbers 57 and 65 a-b) relate specifically to the depiction of specific groups of columns, whilst the watercolour of the north end of the Forum (Turner Bequest CLXXXII, number 3) relates closely to the right hand side of the composition.

Topographical accuracy was not Turner's principle concern, and he was not averse to exaggerating the spatial relationship between the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Temple of Vespasian to make a more satisfactory composition. The essence of Modern Rome and what Turner clearly set out to achieve, was to encapsulate the splendour of a great city, with vestiges of the old and the new, caught in dazzling Italian light. He shows us Imperial Rome with the Forum and the Colosseum, with the prominent motto 'Pontifex Maximus' (Great Bridge Builder) in the foreground which had been applied to the great Roman emperors since the days of the emperor Augustus. The grandeur of Baroque Rome is equally represented by the prominent tower of the Church of Sante Luca e Martina, the gold of its resplendent dome glowing in the sunlight. The link between this Church and ancient imperial Rome is emphasised by the fact that it is built on the site of the Roman senate. Modern Rome, the Rome of Turner's daily experience, is represented by his keen observation of city life with crowds spilling out of church, a washerwoman drying sheets in the sun, the goats in the foreground, the cattle in the 'Campo Vaccino' itself, and even an archaeologist clambering up a ladder.

When Modern Rome was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 it appeared with a quotation from Canto IV of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, but with slight alterations. Byron's original words were:

'The Moon is up and yet it is not night;
The sunset divides the sky with her'

Whereas Turner subtly alters them to read:

'The Moon is up and yet it is not night,
The sun divides the day with her'

Turner's use of the words 'Sun' and 'Day' in place of 'Sunset' and 'Sky' emphasises the fact that his composition is flooded with powerful Italian sunlight which transfigures this spectacular view.

Modern Rome appeared at the Royal Academy exhibition with a companion piece Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (Tate Gallery, London, fig. 3). Throughout his career Turner liked showing pictures together as pendants, as Claude had done before him. It allowed him to compare the past with the present, and to contrast his work with that of the Old Masters. The Bridgewater Seapiece (1801 – Private Collection) was painted to be viewed as a pendant to a van de Velde seapiece, and Dido Building Carthage (1815 – National Gallery, London) was intended as a pendant to The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (1817 – Tate Gallery, London).  In 1838, just a year before Ancient Rome and Modern Rome were shown, Turner exhibited another famous pair of pictures Ancient Italy (Private Collection) and Modern Italy (Glasgow Art Gallery) which were also owned by Monro of Novar.

In considering the pairing of these paintings it is worth remembering that Turner was a keen admirer of the poetry of James Thomson, whose poem Liberty dwelt on both ancient and modern Italy and ancient and modern Rome. Thomson's work may have influenced Turner when approaching the subject of Rome, but whilst Thomson contrasts an idealised Rome of the past with the degenerate present, Turner's vision is different. For Ancient Rome, Turner adds a reference to Agrippina landing with the ashes of Germanicus, who was said to have been poisoned on the orders of the Emperor Tiberius; a clear reference to the fact that the old Roman Empire was far from idyllic. In contrast to the sun setting over a declining empire, Modern Rome shows a sublimely beautiful city basking in brilliant sunshine. Here there is beauty even in the overgrown paths and ruins, as Byron had reflected in Canto IV of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:

"Thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste
More rich than other clime's fertility"

Ancient Rome and Modern Rome were shown together in the East Room of the Royal Academy, close to one of Turner's most celebrated compositions, The Fighting Temeraire (National Gallery, London, fig. 4), which also captured the effect of the simultaneous appearance of the sun and the moon and equally the juxtaposition of the old order and the new order.

In 1836 Blackwood's Magazine had published reviews of Turner's exhibited works, which enraged Turner's ardent admirer John Ruskin. In the issue for July-December 1839 the magazine continued to criticize the artist's work; "We have Ancient and Modern Rome, both alike in the washy-flashy splashes of reds, blues and whites, that, in their distraction and confusion, represent nothing in heaven and earth, and least of all that which they profess to represent, the co-existent influence of sun and moon". Turner's bold colours also confused Thackeray who wrote in Fraser's Magazine June 1839 that the works were "for the most part quite incomprehensible to me". The Athenaeum, 11th May 1839 went further, considering the two pictures to be in the artist's "maddest manner". Whilst such comments are hard to comprehend today, they indicate that Turner's startling use of colour and light was quite unlike anything which had been seen before. Here he was breaking new ground which was to be such an important influence on later artists from Monet to Rothko.

Two reviewers however were able to appreciate the exceptional qualities of the two Rome subjects. The Spectator of 11th May commented that "Turner is as gorgeous and mysterious as ever; and while we regret and condemn his extravagance, it is impossible not to admire the wondrous power of his art in representing an atmosphere of light. Ancient Rome... is a blaze of orange-golden sunshine, reflected from piles of architecture that must be of marble to be so steeped in the hues of light; and Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino..., of which we see just enough to know what it is meant for, is also immersed in a flood of radiance, with a stream of silvery light from the new-risen moon glancing across the scene'. The Art Union of 15th May also used the adjective gorgeous and saw the two works as a kind of requiem for the lost splendour of Rome: "Another of Turner's gorgeous works – a reckless example of colour, but admirable in conception, and brilliant in execution... As usual, he has introduced "a story"... and has summoned his fancy to restore the ancient glories of the eternal city'. 'Modern Rome' was 'A fine and forcible contrast... The glory has departed. The eternal city, with its splendours – its stupendous temples, and its great men – all have become a mockery and a scorn. The plough has gone over its grandeurs, and weeds have grown in its high places'. 

In more recent years the picture has been greatly appreciated, singled out on account of its superb quality and also on account of its astonishingly fine condition.  It was shown at the Tate Gallery in 1974, in what was certainly then the most important exhibition of Turner's works ever held.  Subsequently it has been on long term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, and was lent in 2007 to Washington for the most comprehensive Turner exhibition ever to be held in America. Most recently it was the focal point in Turner in Italy (Ferrara, Edinburgh and Budapest) and used for the cover of the accompanying catalogue.

The History of the Picture

The provenance of Modern Rome could hardly be more distinguished. Hugh Munro of Novar, one of Turner's closest friends, patrons and eventual executor was the first owner; it was bought at his sale by the 5th Earl of Rosebery,  later Prime Minister of Great Britain. After exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1839, the painting went to Munro's house, 113 Park Street, near Grosvenor Square in London where the great German art historian, G. F. Waagen admired the Turner collection in 1854. It was sold by Munro's heirs in 1878 at Christie's and bought by Lord Rosebery to celebrate his recent marriage to Hannah Rothschild. The newly weds took the painting to her family's London home at 107 Piccadilly where it hung for some years and then made the short journey to the Rosebery's house at 38 Berkeley Square.

Hugh Munro of Novar (1797-1864) gained Turner's trust to a degree shared by very few patrons, perhaps only Lord Egremont at Petworth and Walter Fawkes of Farnley. Munro was the youngest of them, indeed twenty two years younger than Turner himself, which makes this trust all the more remarkable given the artist's famous curmudgeonliness. Munro was the son of Sir Alexander Munro, Consul General in Madrid who died in 1809 leaving him the Novar estate in Ross-shire, Scotland. Shy, but clubbable enough to join the Dilettanti Society in 1850, Munro spent the greater part of his life collecting paintings. The central story of his life though was his friendship with Turner. Turner often visited Novar and Munro was to become one of his most ardent patrons, buying many of the most important paintings Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1836-44. Munro's character is the key to Turner's friendship. His diffident manner and his unaffected love of art appealed to the painter. Waagen described Munro as one "in whom the love of art alone is the inducement".

The collection which Munro built up of the artist's work was by any standards extraordinary. In 1836 he bought from the Royal Academy exhibition, Rome from Mount Aventine (Private Collection) and Juliet and her Nurse (Private Collection). Even so, Munro remained hungry for more but felt "ashamed of taking so large a haul"2. Two years later he bought Modern Italy (Glasgow Art Gallery) and its pendant Ancient Italy (Private Collection) from the same source, the Royal Academy. The following year, 1839, true to form, Munro bought arguably Turner's greatest Italian picture, Modern Rome (the present painting).

Munro was eventually to own fifteen oil paintings by Turner and one hundred and nine of his watercolours. The watercolour collection was also much admired, especially by Waagen, and by John Ruskin who was to try unsuccessfully to buy it privately from Munro's heirs. In 1844, in appreciation for the scale of the patronage and the depth of the friendship, Turner made Monro one of the four trustees of his charity for the relief of decayed and indigent artists. This led to his becoming one of three executors at Turner's death who had the mammoth task of sorting out the artist's studio bequest to the British Nation.

Munro had several other artist friendships but none with the same level of intimacy as Turner. He knew John Constable and owned six of his paintings and Landseer stayed at Novar.  As well as the great collection of Turners he owned nineteen pictures by Wilson, thirteen by Reynolds and twelve by Bonington – as well as fifty-six by Etty and twenty-seven by Stothard. The Old Master paintings he acquired were also admired by his contemporaries. The collection veered towards the baroque and rococo with works such as Giambattista Tiepolo's Martyrdom of St Agatha (Staatliche Museum, Berlin), a rare artist to find in Britain at this time. He also owned paintings by Watteau, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Titian's Rest on the Flight (Private Collection), and Claude's elegiac Landscape with St Philip baptising the Eunuch (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The most famous work in the collection was a version of Raphael's Madonna dei Candelabri (Baltimore Museum and Art Gallery). The majority of his oil paintings are now dispersed around international museums.

On his death, Munro left his art collection to his sister Isabella and her son Henry Munro, who engaged Christie's to sell it in 1877 and 1878. The sale was a major event. It had never been easy to buy works by Turner in the artist's lifetime; even such a distinguished collector as Lord Lansdowne was turned away from the artist's studio.  His death had changed nothing; indeed it probably became even more difficult as three hundred and eighteen pictures, about sixty percent of his total output in oil, was bequeathed to the British Nation as the Turner Bequest. Whilst Ruskin sold some discarded works by the artist in 1869, on the whole owners of Turner's work were not inclined to sell.  The first great sale of his work following his death did not occur until 1873 on the death of Joseph Gillott when twenty four oil paintings and watercolours which he had acquired during the last twenty years of the artist's life were sold in a highly successful auction in which many collectors competed strongly. This only whetted the appetite for the Munro sale which offered by far the largest and most important group of works to come to auction. The catalogue title page described Munro as "the intimate friend and executor of JMW Turner". This collection was offered in two sales, fifty five watercolours in 1877 and the Turner oils in 1878. Interest in the collection was intense and The Times reported that "12,000 – 15,000 persons must have passed before the pictures." During the sale the competition for the Turner's works was predictably strong, led by the two main London dealers, Agnew's and Durlacher's.  The present painting Modern Rome was sold on 6th April 1878. The Times saleroom report singled it out, commenting on "the beautiful effect of the strong afterglow, and the cool light from the moon seen in the light clouds." It was bought by Frederick Davis acting on behalf of Lord Rosebery for the significant sum of 4,450 gns.

Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) (fig. 6) was, like Munro, an extensive Scottish landowner but there the comparison ends. Vastly richer and with an irresistible social presence, Rosebery was always the coming man in British politics. "Was there ever such a complex person?" asked Lord Crewe. He declined more appointments than any nineteenth century politician until offered the Foreign Secretaryship. When finally succumbing, on being offered the post of Foreign Secretary, he accepted with the laconic telegram, "So be it. Mentmore", (one of his country houses). His great political achievement was to strengthen the Empire while keeping the balance of power and averting war in Afghanistan and the Balkans. He became Prime Minister in 1893 when only forty six, but by that time had lost much of his political ambition and was a chronic insomniac following the death from typhoid, after only twelve years of marriage, of his adored wife, Hannah Rothschild (fig. 5), only child and heiress of Baron Meyer de Rothschild of 107 Piccadilly and Mentmore.

They had married on 20th March 1878 in Mayfair; the bride was given away by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, and the Prince of Wales proposed the wedding toast. It was to celebrate their wedding that Rosebery and his wife purchased Turner's Modern Rome at Christie's just two and a half weeks later. The young couple had commenced their honeymoon at Petworth House, the home of Lord Rosebery's sister, Constance, Lady Leconfield, where they can hardly have failed to admire Turner's works commissioned directly from the artist by Lord Leconfield's grandfather, Lord Egremont. From Petworth the couple made a brief trip to Scotland so that Hannah could see Dalmeny, the Rosebery family seat, for the first time. They returned to London on Thursday 4th April in time to view the Munro Turners at Christie's.  Hannah later wrote to her sister in law on 12th April - 

"Dearest Connie,

No doubt you are surprised to hear of our return from the north; but Archie wanted to see the Turners & hear the debate, so I naturally preferred accompanying him to remaining in northern solitude& we came to London by the night mail on Thursday."

Rosebery employed his agent Frederick Davis of 47 Pall Mall, London, to make the purchase and as soon as the sale was over arrangements were made to take the painting to the Rothschild mansion, 107 Piccadilly. The couple then embarked for France to enjoy their second, continental honeymoon.

As a politician, Rosebery was a Liberal Imperialist but his heart lay in Europe, particularly Italy where he purchased the Villa Delahante (now the Villa Rosebery) at Posilippo on the Bay of Naples, today the summer residence of the Italian President. As a collector Rosebery had the means to acquire what he chose, but invariably his choices were informed by his refined connoisseurship and his keen sense of history.  To his distinguished family collection at Dalmeny and The Durdans, and to those of his wife at 107, Piccadilly and Mentmore he added a large number of judicious purchases – paintings, works of art and a large number of rare books for his extensive libraries.  In America his activities were to influence the collections of J. Pierpont Morgan and Henry Frick. His distinguished collection included works by Bronzino, David, Gainsborough, Greuze, Hogarth, Holbein, Lawrence, Raeburn, Reynolds, Teniers, Tiepolo, Titian and he commissioned the portraits of his wife from Lord Leighton and those of himself and of Gladstone from Millais.

Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino moved in 1888 with the rest of his London collection from the Rosebery house in Piccadilly to the family's new residence, 38 Berkeley Square.  From there it was lent to the great Exhibition of Works by The Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School at the Royal Academy in the winter of 1896.  The other lenders included Queen Victoria, Lady Wallace, the Duke of Westminster, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and J. Pierpont Morgan, which ensured the extraordinary high quality and spectacular range of paintings with such celebrated works as The Blue Boy by Gainsborough (Huntington Museum and Art Gallery, California) and The Infanta by Velázquez. Those lent by Lord Rosebery underline the significance of his collection.  In all he lent nine works, including Modern Rome and Rome from Mount Aventine, but also the portraits of Wellington by Lawrence and the great full length of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart which he had acquired from Lord Lansdowne (now in the Smithsonian Collection, Washington). With the death of his son the 6th Earl in 1974, it was perhaps fitting that this painting, with two Scots owners, should at last cross the border, where it enjoyed thirty two years of admiration being lent to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Further information on this painting, including contributed essays by James Hamilton, Simon Howell, Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts, is available at www.sothebys.com or via the department.