245. [N05543] The Rialto, Venice c. 1820
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (5543)
Canvas, 69 7/8 × 132 (177·5 × 335·5)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? 245, I unidentified 11'0" × 5'10 1/2"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951.
Lit. Davies 1946, p. 162; exh. cat., R.A. 1974–5, p. 92; Wilton 1979, pp. 145–6.
Until recently known as ‘A Canal seen under a Bridge’ but recognised in 1974 as showing the Grand Canal seen through the arch of the Rialto looking roughly south. The exceptional size and format of the picture match England: Richmond Hill (No. 140 [N00502]) and Rome from the Vatican (No. 228 [N00503]) and suggest that this unfinished picture was projected as a Venetian counterpart to the latter following Turner's first visit to Italy in 1819. The ‘Milan to Venice’ sketchbook of 1819 contains a sequence of drawings moving up the Grand Canal from the Lagoon, approaching, at, and looking back towards the Rialto (CLXXV-73 to 84; see especially the close-up of the bridge on 78 verso and 79, repr. Wilkinson 1974, pp. 182–3, and the view under the bridge on 81 verso and 82). At about the same time as the oil Turner painted a finished watercolour, now in Dublin (Wilton op. cit., p. 383 no. 725, pl. 160).
The picture is very dirty with tears on the left, just within the arch, and bottom right. There are also numerous paint losses, particularly in the left quarter of the picture. Some pencil drawing is visible, including ruled lines to define architectural forms.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984