As part of the research for Turner and Venice, the new major exhibition at Tate Britain, two oil paintings by J.M.W. Turner previously thought to be views of the Venetian lagoon have been re-identified.
Ian Warrell, curator of the exhibition at Tate Britain asserts in the catalogue to the exhibition that the more likely location for the two views is much closer to home – Portsmouth in Hampshire. As a result the work formerly listed as Festive Lagoon Scene, Venice c1840–5 is now renamed The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth 8 October 1844 c1844–5 and Procession of Boats with Distant Smoke, Venice c1845 is now re-titled The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth, 8 October 1844 c1844–5. The two paintings will still be included in the exhibition. (The section of the Turner and Venice catalogue in which Ian Warrell argues for the re-identification of the works is on the second page of this release).
Turner and Venice is the first major exhibition devoted to J.M.W .Turner’s seminal trips to Venice will open at Tate Britain on 9 October. The exhibition, sponsored by Barclays PLC, spans the twenty years between Turner’s first visit to Venice in 1819 and his last in 1840 and will bring together around fifty-five oil paintings, and over one hundred watercolours, as well as prints, maps and Turner’s Venice sketchbooks.
The exhibition is set out as a tour of Turner’s Venice. Beginning with the monumental centre around the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San 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.
Festive Lagoon Scene, Venice c. 1840–45
Tate. Bequeathed by the artist 1856
New re-attributed caption:
The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth 8 October 1844 c. 1840–45 Previous captions:
Procession of Boats with Distant Smoke, Venice c. 1845
Tate. Bequeathed by the artist 1856
New re-attributed caption:
The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth, 8 October 1844c. 1844-5
The exhibition is curated by Ian Warrell, Collections Curator at Tate. The book Turner and Venice edited by Ian Warrell, published by Tate Publishing Ltd to accompany the exhibition at Tate Britain, is priced £29.99 in paperback.
Call Tate Publishing on 020 7887 8869
Turner and Venice
Sponsored by Barclays PLC
Tate Britain, Linbury Galleries
9 October 2003 – 11 January 2004 (Press View: Tuesday 7 October, 10.00)
Admission £8.50 (concessions £6)
For tickets please call 020 7887 8888
For information please call 020 7887 8008
Notes to Editor
Barclays’ sponsorship of Turner and Venice is the culmination of their two-year arts sponsorship Invest and Inspire in which Barclays has developed partnerships with four of Britain’s leading arts institutions: the Royal National Theatre, The British Museum, the National Gallery and Tate Britain. Invest and Inspire aims to increase access to the arts for all and to demonstrate the benefits of imaginative business investment in the arts.
Extract from the Epilogue to the catalogue Turner and Venice :
[The essay discusses some Monet views of Venice from 1908]
Just a couple of years earlier, the abstract nature of Turner’s preparatory
work had become apparent for the first time,when a group of previously
unexhibited studies went on display at the Tate Gallery. One of these was
the picture that has come to be known as ‘Procession of Boats, with Distant
Smoke,Venice’ (fig.277), but which was originally called ‘The Burning of the
Ships’. Though eclipsed at the time by the incredible revelatory quality of
Norham Castle,Sunrise c.1845 (Tate) or the Evening Star c.1835–45 (National
Gallery, London), this work nevertheless contributed to the reappraisal
of Turner’s later style in the early twentieth century. It was not linked
specifically with Venice until 1966, when it was shown with its pair (fig.276)
in Lawrence Gowing’s celebrated exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York. The second painting was part of a cache of around seventy
canvases that Kenneth Clark unearthed in the National Gallery’s basement
during the Second World War, which until then had not even been
Other Venetian pictures in this group included figs.168 and
241–2, as well as fig.178, with its magically ghostly image of the Salute.
The presence of identifiable topographical features in these last four works
gives good reason for identifying them as Venetian subjects.Yet for the
two larger paintings, a link with Venice, while plausible, possibly says more
about the myths that continue to envelop the floating city and Gowing’s
desire to enshrine Turner as the prophet of abstraction. Since 1966 his
interpretation of the pictures has hitherto gone unchallenged, and has
in fact, been bolstered by recent writers.
However, many of the details do not readily sustain the current connection.
First, the size of the canvas is substantially larger than that used for the
nineteen small Venetian pictures that Turner exhibited between 1840 and
1846. This is an important point, for he imposed fairly rigid limitations on
himself with regard to his materials when working in series. In fact, the
dimensions are the same as those of his standard mid-scale exhibition
pictures, and as the pair seems to date from the mid-1840s, they are closest
in spirit and handling to the four canvases exploring the activities of
In contrast with the grey tonality of that group, the two ‘Venetian’ pictures
are much warmer, and were enhanced by the application of red outlines to
suggest the presence of numerous figures.
Looking closely at the pictures it is apparent that there is no architectural
element, as if the eye scans a seaward horizon from the shore. Nevertheless,
the presence of so many festive crowds indicates that the quayside is not
far away. Indeed, in one of them a line of soldiers in red uniform stands
patiently to attention, while in the boats below people point eagerly
towards the distant smoke. These English troops are clearly an anomaly
in a Venetian subject, but would not be so in one closer to home.
A more appropriate identification of the pictures could, therefore, be
the arrival of the French king, Louis-Philippe, at Portsmouth on 8 October
1844 (fig.275). One of Turner’s own letters confirms that he was present on
the occasion, and a group of studies have been related to the event.
He had known Louis-Philippe many years earlier,when the Duc d’Orléans’s
son lived in exile at Twickenham, but more recently, in 1838, the king had
awarded him a diamond-studded, gold snuff-box in return for a copy of his
Picturesque Views in England and Wales.
In the autumn of 1844 Louis-Philippe was attempting to consolidate the
alliance with Queen Victoria,which had begun the previous year with her visit
to his château in Picardy. His arrival in Portsmouth in his paddle steamer,
the Gomer, was one of several carefully staged pieces of pageantry that were
widely reported in the newspapers over the following week. To welcome him
the Queen’s guns were repeatedly fired, causing smoke to build up on the
anchorage, and, according to the Illustrated London News, ‘the whole
population thronged the beach’, watching as with every ‘moment this scene
increased in interest’.
One of the noteworthy features reported in the press was the presence of
troops, ‘disposed in two lines, each three deep’, which stretched ‘from the
Royal Dock yard to the railroad terminus’, which was presumably the same
display of military decorum that impressed Turner. Though the steamer
itself does not appear in his paintings, he shows the flotilla of smaller
vessels containing local dignitaries that went out to greet Louis-Philippe.
Moreover, the centrally placed boat in the Procession picture may, in fact,
be intended to be that from which the king disembarked.
This is all a long way from the interpretation of these pictures as the
wraith-like mists of Venice, with parties of revellers drifting to and from
the city across the Lagoon. But it demonstrates the way in which Turner’s
vision of Venice relies less on the specifics of place, and far more on what
he brought to the scene. Whether he was painting Venice or the Solent, he
remained obsessed with the elusive qualities of light and colour, and it is
his restless exploration of these characteristics that continues to captivate.