Tate Britain  Linbury Galleries
16 October 2003 – 11 January 2004

The first ever exhibition devoted to J.M.W. Turner’s seminal trips to Venice will open in October 2003. Venice has attracted an endless stream of artists since its earliest days. But even among its most distinguished artistic visitors, Turner remains one of the few to find a true echo of his own sensibility in the unique qualities of this sublime floating city. The exhibition spans the twenty years between Turner’s first visit to Venice in 1819 and his last in 1840.

Even within a career that was remarkable for its successes and its innovations, Turner’s images of Venice were quickly recognised by their first viewers as some of his most magical works. The use of vibrant colour, which was generally a problem for his contemporaries, seemed in these paintings to be absolutely at one with the subject-matter. And yet, while the importance and appeal of Turner’s vision of Venice has long been recognised, it is surprising that this major exhibition is the first devoted to this theme.

The exhibition, sponsored by Barclays PLC, will bring together about fifty-five oil paintings, and over one hundred watercolours, as well as prints, maps and the sketchbooks Turner used in Venice. Much of this material is part of the Turner Bequest, housed at Tate Britain, but very little of it has been exhibited in recent years. Some of the watercolours will be displayed for the first time, including several of the romantic and mysterious studies Turner painted of Venice by moonlight. Among other highlights will be the chance to see pairs of pictures that were conceived as pendants, but which have been separated since they were sold shortly after being completed. For example, the 1842 view, The Dogana from the steps of the Europa, from the Tate Collection, will be paired with the evocative view of the cemetery island, The Campo Santo, from the Toledo Museum of Art, a painting that the critic and artist John Ruskin considered a ‘great inventive masterpiece’. There will also be extensive loans from public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh as many works from private collections. Finished pictures and related studies will be presented together in order to explore their relationship and different purposes.

To provide a more vivid sense of the market that Turner was competing in, his work will be shown alongside examples by contemporaries such as Richard Parkes Bonington, Clarkson Stanfield, Samuel Prout and Ruskin. Elsewhere the influence of Titian and Tintoretto will be explored, as well as that of Canaletto, the presiding deity of urban view-making at the outset of Turner’s career. A further dimension is Turner’s interest in literary evocations of Venice, notably those of Shakespeare and Lord Byron, which helped to shape and define his own reactions.

But the exhibition is above all devoted to Turner’s own paintings and his luminous watercolours, set out as a tour of his Venice. Beginning with the monumental centre around the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica of S.Marco, the succeeding rooms draw the visitor deeper into the city’s topography. This sequence culminates with a series of views of the Lagoon in which the city becomes merely a component part in Turner’s meditations on light, colour and the reflective surfaces of water and stone.

The exhibition is curated by Ian Warrell, Collections Curator at Tate and will tour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (February - May 2004). A fully-illustrated catalogue will be available.

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