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The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Venice; Campanile and Ducal Palace, from the Canal’), crossing out the word ‘Canal’ and writing: ‘middle of the Canale di S. Marco | noonday’.1 Bell similarly annotated Finberg’s In Venice with Turner (1930): ‘The Ducal Palace, with Campanile, from the middle of the Basin of S. Mark. Noonday’.2 The viewpoint does indeed appear to be low on the water, and the iconic buildings are shown in selective detail, using a limited watercolour palette over pencil outlines from an angle which presents them head-on in a seemingly shallow space, like elements in a schematic architectural elevation or theatrical flats.
Ian Warrell has noted the lack of ‘underdrawing’ in the other Venice watercolours in this sketchbook (D15254–D15256; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4, 5, 6), suggesting that here it ‘may have helped resolve the complex interaction of architectural forms’, perhaps indicating that the subject was delineated ‘on the spot’;3 Tate D14436 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 63a), a pencil drawing from slightly to the west in the smaller contemporary Milan to Venice sketchbook ‘does not have sufficient detail for it to have been the source’.4
Despite the relative slightness of the pencil work, what is shown is interrelated carefully and with sufficient clarity to triangulate Turner’s position: on the Bacino east of the Dogana and aligned north-west of the harbour along the north side of the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, looking north-north-west along an axis running from the channel between that island and the Isola della Giudecca and the centreline of the Piazzetta (subtly but crucially indicating the recession of the nearest ranges on each side), terminating with the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower) on the north side of the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square).
Along the waterfront west of the Piazzetta are the Zecca (mint), with seven vertical strokes representing its upper windows, whereas the façade actually has nine bays, and the lower adjoining Biblioteca Marciana (Libreria Sansoviniana), with no indication of its three arched first-floor windows. Both inconsistencies might indicate working in watercolour at speed, prioritising light and colour over topographical accuracy once the pencil framework had been confidently established. Beyond the library rises the campanile of St Mark’s on the near side of the Piazza. Coming forward to the right of the clock tower are the two arched bays at the south-west corner of the Basilica of St Mark’s, with the westernmost of its domes falling at the centre of the sheet, partly eclipsed by the shadowy west front of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), which is shown in steep perspective.
Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by Bell (before 1936) in copy of Finberg 1930, Prints and Drawings Study Room, British Museum, London, p.168, as transcribed by Ian Warrell (undated notes, Tate catalogue files).
Warrell 2003, p.88; see also Warrell 2008, p.58.
Ibid., p.263 note 8.
See Stainton 1985, p.43, and Brown 2002, p.110.
Finberg 1930, p.23; also quoted in Wilton 1974, p.87; see also Perkins 1990, p.37.
Stainton 1985, p.43
Gage 1969, p.32; see also Gage 1972, p..
Townsend 1998, p.110, see also Warrell 2003, p.88.
Finlay 1999, p.33.
Wilton 1982, p.41; see also Stainton 1985, p.43, Wilton 1988, p.72, and Perkins 1990, p.37.
Brown 2002, p.110.
Wilton 1982, p.41; see also Wilton 1987, p.112, Wilton 1988, p.72, Brown 1992, p.126, Townsend 1998, p.110, and Brown 2002, p.110.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.438 no.1162, reproduced; see also Gage 1972, p..
Wilton 1979, p.431 no.1105.
See Warrell 2002, p.79.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.200–1 no.349, pl.356 (colour); see also Finberg 1930, p.79, Gage 1972, p., Perkins 1990, p.37, Warrell 2003, p.88, Baetjer 2007, p.172 note 29, and Warrell 2008, p.67 note 11.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.235 no.383, pl.386 (colour); see also Wilton 1982, p.41.
Including comments from Clark and others 1959, p.264, Wilton 1979, p.142, Stainton 1981, p.82, Powell 1984, p.43, Stainton 1985, pp.14, 16, 43, Powell 1987, p.16, Wilton 1988, p.72, Perkins 1990, p.36, Brown 2002, p.23, Jan Morris and Ian Warrell in Warrell 2003, pp.12 and 16 respectively, and Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 1.