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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851, British
Vesuvius in Eruption
between 1817 and 1820
Watercolor, gum, scraping out on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper, mounted on thick, smooth, cream wove paper
Sheet: 11 1/4 x 15 5/8 inches (28.6 x 39.7 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, verso, on mount, center: "<37> (encircled)"; in graphite, verso, center: "Mount Vesuvius in Eruption | J M W Turner R.a 1817"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
boats | geology | Grand Tour | landscape | lava | mountain | science | smoke | volcano
Associated Places:
Campania | Europe | Italy | Napoli | Vesuvius
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: As a COVID-19 precaution, the Study Room is closed until further notice.
Curatorial Comment:
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The eighteenth-century fascination with volcanoes, and Vesuvius in particular, deepened in the nineteenth century, fuelled by the eruptions of Vesuvius in 1794, 1807, 1819, and 1822. Turner was alert to both the intellectual and aesthetic possibilities that the evolving discipline of geology offered; he cultivated friendships with pioneering geologists, including John MacCulloch and Charles Stokes, and his sketchbooks contain detailed records of geological phenomena. During the second decade of the nineteenth century Turner, a keen proponent of the Sublime, had his own burst of volcanic activity. In 1815 he exhibited his canvas “The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains, in the Island of St Vincent” (Butlin and Joll, 1984, no. 132); two years later the print publisher W. B. Cooke commissioned Turner to make companion watercolors of Vesuvius, showing the volcano in eruption and repose (Wilton, “Turner”, 1979, nos. 698–99). This watercolor, the third of the group and the most spectacular, would also have been made around the same time as Cooke's drawings, if the inscription on the back, which is not in Turner's hand, is correct. Turner did not visit Italy until 1819, and he may have based the Vesuvius drawings on the work of another draftsman, most likely James Hakewill, whose sketches Turner used for a group of watercolors commissioned as designs for Hakewill’s publication “Picturesque Tour of Italy”. Although the Center’s Vesuvius drawing was neither exhibited nor engraved, its extremely high degree of finish suggests that Turner had made it for a specific purpose, perhaps as a commission. Although Turner's patron Walter Fawkes owned the watercolor, it was not included in Fawkes’s exhibition of his collection at his London house in 1819, which featured his outstanding holdings of Turner’s work. The work was probably acquired by Fawkes (and possibly even made) sometime later.
--Gillian Forrester,2007-01
Exhibition History:
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English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17)

Visions of Vesuvius (Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1978-04-14 - 1978-07-16)

Turner and the Sublime (Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980-11-01 - 1981-01-04)

Turner and the Sublime (British Museum, 1981-05-15 - 1981-09-20)

Turner and the Sublime (Yale Center for British Art, 1981-02-11 - 1981-04-19)

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)

Eruptions: Pompeii and Santorini (Scuderie del Quirinale, 2019-10-05 - 2020-01-19)

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John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 284, no. 89, pl. 89, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Martin Butlin, The paintings of J.M.W. Turner, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 1984, pp. 96-97, no. 132, pl. 136, NJ18 T85 B885 1984 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Emily Dickinson Museum, Angles of a Landscape, Emily Dickinson: Seeing New Englandly , 2010, Not Available at Yale

Norbert Göttler, Eine rechte Malerluft, ein wahres Malerlicht, Künstlerkolonien, Malerorte und pittoreske Landpartien in Oberbayern , Bayerland, Dachau, 2011, pp. 8-10, Not Available at Yale

Jonathan Mayne, Taste in Water-Colour, Apollo, v. 77, no. 14, April 1963, p. 293, fig. 6, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Second copy available in Vertical File : V1168

Eric Shanes, The life and masterworks of J.M.W. Turner, Parkstone Press, New York, 2008, p. 135, NJ18 T85 S441 2008 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 95, no. 142, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Ian Warrell, J.M.W. Turner, Tate Publishing, London, 2007, p. 255, fig. 58, NJ18 T85 A12 2007 + (YCBA)

Ian Warrell, J.M.W. Turner : the making of a master, Tate Publishing, London, 2013, pp. 149, 152, fig. 53, NJ18.T85 T3652 2013 (YCBA)

Andrew Wilton, The life and work of J.M.W. Turner, Academy Editions, London, 1979, pp. 137, 381, No. 697, pl. 145, NJ18 T85 +W577 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Art, Lux, et Veritas 2012, Personal Responses to Collections at Yale , Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2012, pp. 38-41, V 2414:2

The critique of reason : Romantic art, 1760-1860 : March 6-July 26, 2015, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2015, [pp. 2-3], fig. 2, V 2574 (YCBA)

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