Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore - Early Morning


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 223 x 287 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4

Display caption

Turner visited Venice for the first time in 1819. He stayed only a few days, but the city inspired him to make a group of exceptionally free and limpid views, revealing a new understanding of the qualities of pure watercolour. These watercolours were made from points at or near the entrance to the Grand Canal and the Canale della Giudecca. Here Sta Maria Maggiore seems to have been observed from the Palazzo Giustiniani, which later became the Hotel Europa, where Turner stayed on subsequent visits to the city.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Although he presumably had no doubt as to the subject, Finberg subsequently annotated his laconic 1909 Inventory title (‘Venice’) with ‘San Giorgio. (J.P.H.)’,1 the initials of the etcher and collector John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929), whose occasional suggestions are noted in copies of the Inventory at Tate Britain. In another copy he simply noted: ‘S. Giorgio’.2 The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated another copy: ‘San Giorgio from the Dogana, sunrise’.3 The view is east-south-east across the Bacino to the west front of Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, on the island of the same name. The alignment of the various features of the church and surrounding buildings indicates a viewpoint at the entrance to the Grand Canal opposite the Punta della Dogana, likely outside the Palazzo (or Ca’) Giustinian (later the Hotel Europa); beyond to the left is the waterfront on the north side of the Canale di San Marco towards the Giardini Pubblici.4
Allowing for inevitable slight differences in detail and emphasis, a pencil drawing in the smaller contemporary Milan to Venice sketchbook effectively presents an identical view (Tate D14442–D14443; Turner Bequest CLXXV 66a–67, the second page being only a brief continuation). Lindsay Stainton has carefully specified how the ‘pale sun, more visible from its reflection in the water than from its image in the sky, has risen about two hours above the horizon’5 in this watercolour, raising the issue of whether Turner recorded such an apparently specific effect directly. Compared with the more prosaic pencil drawing, small but significant differences in proportion and detail might suggest it was done spontaneously and independently to catch the effects of light and atmosphere,6 although Barry Venning has categorised it as the type of considered work Turner might have made from a combination of memory and reference to his sketches, ‘probably during the evenings at his lodgings’.7 However, Ian Warrell has considered it ‘evident that some or all’ of the Como and Venice sketchbook watercolours of the city (D15254–D15256, D15258; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4–7) ‘were painted directly in front of the motif, most obviously’ this one and D15256, which shows the Dogana across the Grand Canal from the same viewpoint:
Undated MS note by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by Finberg in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
See Stainton 1985, p.42, and Warrell 2003, p.88.
See Herold 1997, p.48.
Venning 2003, p.156.
Warrell 2003, p.88; see also Warrell 2008, p.57.
Ibid.; see also further discussion in Warrell 2008, p.57.
Finberg 1930, p.22.
Including comments from Clark and others 1959, p.264, Butlin 1962, pp.10, 36, Croft-Murray 1963, p.10, Kitson 1964, p.81, Gowing 1966, p.16, Butlin 1975, p.38, Herrmann 1975, p.231, Wilton 1979, p.142, Gaunt and Hamlyn 1981, p.[60], Weelan 1982, p.66, Wilton 1982, p.40, Powell 1984, p.43, Stainton 1985, p.42, Powell 1987, p.16, Brown 1990, p.163, Perkins 1990, p.37, Bockemühl 1993, p.61, Gaunt and Hamlyn 1994, p.60, John Golding, ‘Turner’s Last Journey’ in Lloyd and others 1996, p.166, Michael Lloyd, ‘Being There’, ibid., p.189, Venning 2003, p.157, Jan Morris and Ian Warrell in Warrell 2003, pp.12 and 16 respectively, and Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 1.
Wilton 1979, p.142.
Butlin 1962, p.36, and 1975, p.38; see also Stainton 1982, p.20.
Croft-Murray 1963, p.17; see also Stainton 1982, p.20..
Chaplin 2010, p.64; the various stages of his version are reproduced pp.65–7.
Stainton 1985, p.42.
Weelan 1982, p.66.
Powell 1998, pp.80–1.
O’Neill 2008, p.10.
See Stainton 1985, pp.33, 42; see also Warrell 2003, p.88.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.245–6 no.396, pl.400 (colour).
Stainton 1985, p.33.
Warrell 2003, p.263 note 6; see also Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 3.
Undated note, Tate catalogue files.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like