Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851)
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Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851)

View of Corinth, Greece

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851)
View of Corinth, Greece
pencil and watercolour with scratching out on paper
5 7/8 x 8¼ in. (14.9 x 21 cm.)
George Hibbert; Christie's, London, 2 May 1860, lot 225 (101 gns to Gambart).
John Ruskin by whom given to
Arthur Severn.
Sir Donald Currie, Bt.
with Agnew's, London.
Mrs M.D. Fergusson.
W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed., London, 1877, pp. 593, 608.
W. Armstrong, Turner, London, Manchester and Liverpool, 1902, p.
E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London, 1903-12, XIII, pp. 447-8; XXXV, p. 132; XXXVI, p. 358.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., II, 1913, p. 310.
M. Omer, Turner and the Bible, Jerusalem, 1979, pp. 12, 19, 31.
A. Wilton, The Life and Works of J.M.W. Turner, London, 1979, p. 450, no. 1257, as untraced.
London, The Fine Art Society, Drawings by the late J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 1878, no. 50.
Jerusalem, Israel Museum, Turner and the Bible, 1979, no. X.
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Lot Essay

This is one of twenty-seven topographical watercolours executed by Turner as illustrations to Landscape Illustration of the Bible, commissioned by William and Edward Francis Finden and published between 1834 and 1836 by John Murray (The Cedars of Lebanon, Wilton, op. cit. no. 1263 was evidently unused). Other artists involved in the publication included Augustus Wall Callcott, David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield. They all depended on drawings executed on the spot by architects such as Charles Barry and C.R. Cockerell and artist-travellers such as Sir Robert Kerr-Porter; some of the drawings by Barry are now at the Royal Institute of British Architects, though those by the other artists, such as Cockerell, remain untraced. The present watercolour was based on a drawing by Cockerell. The engraving by Edward Finden, was published in 1834. (The history of the project as a whole is set out in L. Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford, 1990, pp 209-12, and Omer, op. cit.).

The need for such a publication was set out in the introduction 'While other works of comparatively small value have employed the pencils of the first artists, and have received every sort of embellishment, little, comparatively, has been done towards illustrating the most important of all books - the Holy Scriptures. To supply this deficiency is the design of the present collection of Landscape Illustrations, in which are exhibited nearly one hundred of the most remarkable places mentioned in the Bible, as they actually exist, and very few of which have hitherto been delineated.'

The Bible was a source of inspiration for Turner throughout his career. In 1800 he exhibited at the Royal Academy The Fifth plague of Egypt with a quote from Exodus and in 1801 he appended a reference from Jeremiah to The Army of the Medes destroyed in the desert by a whirlwind - as foretold by Jeremiah. In the 1830s he returned to biblical themes with amongst other paintings, Pilate Washing his Hands (1830), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace (1832) and Christ driving the Traders from the Temple (1832?). He continued to use Biblical subjects into the 1840s: Down with Christianity - (Flight into Egypt) (1841) and Angel standing in the Sun (1846).

Ruskin wrote with reference to the present watercolour in his Notes on his Drawings of the late J.M.W. Turner, R.A., in the catalogue of the exhibition of watercolours from his collection held at the Fine Art Society in 1878: that 'Turner had never been to Palestine ... but they are quite unrivalled examples of his richest executive powers on a small scale ...'. Turner added the foreground group of figures, absent in Cockerell's drawing; these were explained by Ruskin as a reference to St. Paul's activities while at Corinth: 'The crowded figures in the foreground here are meant in illustration of St Paul's trade: "By their occupation they were tent-makers." You will dislike them at first, but if they were not there, you would have felt the white houses a painful interruption to the Acropolis -- as it is they are a reposeful source of light. The square oar in front is to repeat and conquer their squareness; the little triangular flag, to join this with the Acropolis slope; and their distant masses to echo its duplicity'.

Like the other illustrations, this example shows a Biblical site as it was in Turner's time, with the harbour of Corinth in the foreground and the fortified Acropolis behind. The title of the engraving, 'Corinth-Cenchrea', refers to the Ancient name, said to be derived from that of one of Neptune's sons. Turner had already, in about 1832, executed a vignette of Corinth from the Acropolis for The Works of Lord Byron, (Wilton, op. cit., p. 446, no. 1224, illustrated).

Other works from this series are in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Indianapolis Museum of Art, and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

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