Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Boat ?near Santa Marta, Venice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 222 × 321 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 9

Display caption

In August 1840 Turner crossed the Channel to Rotterdam, and travelled up the Rhine on what was to be his last journey to Italy, the country that had inspired so much of his work. His destination was Venice, where he arrived on 20 August. Venice was then a city of crumbling palaces, fitting well Turner's typically Romantic fascination with the decline of once great civilisations. He spent two weeks in the city, staying at the Hotel Europa. During this time he made an extensive series of richly coloured watercolours of every part of the serene city. They show Venice under a variety of atmospheric conditions, from the haziness of dawn to the crisp sunlight of midday, and finally the voluptuous colouring of twilight and the setting sun.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Anticipating later appreciation of this watercolour’s formal qualities over its perplexing topography, John Ruskin wrote in 1857, calling it simply ‘Venetian Fishing-Boat’: ‘I am not certain of the locality of this sketch; but it is a very interesting one in the distinctness and simplicity of its forms. The reason of the great prominence given to the sail of the boat is, that its curved and sharp characters may give the utmost possible amount of opposition to the absolutely rectangular outline of the buildings. The sky is very beautiful.’1
Early in the following century, when it had come to be catalogued on unspecified grounds as ‘Venice: Suburb towards Murano’,2 the Lagoon island north-east of the city, the editor and critic Charles Lewis Hind, who wrote on the Post-Impressionists, suggested that it showed ‘“the way [Turner] worked,” when painting for his own pleasure, not for exhibition – green water, violet hills, rosy buildings held together by the strength of that tawny sail – lovely.’3 His contemporary J.E. Phythian included this work among other Venetian studies he called ‘brilliant in light and colour’ and ‘impressionistic’ in the broadest sense, simply praising its ‘lovely morning light’.4
In 1974 the sheet was exhibited as ‘Venice: the Riva degli Schiavoni, with a Fishing Boat’, and Andrew Wilton suggested links to pencil drawings in the contemporary Rotterdam to Venice sketchbook (Tate D32431–D32432; Turner Bequest CCCXX 86, 86a);5 the port view of a boat sailing past San Giorgio Maggiore in the first is loosely comparable, while any resemblance between the waterfront in the second, seen east of the Bacino, and the present skyline is likely fortuitous. Wilton later considered this work in relation to other colour studies: ‘its combination of salmon-pink and green occurs in various examples from the disbound books’ (or separate contemporary sheets). Lindsay Stainton noted that ‘the aquamarine, clear blue and orange-pink colours of this study’ are also seen in those designated within Turner Bequest section CCCXVI,6 arranged according to subject in parallel subsections of the present catalogue.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.214.
Ibid., footnote 2, and p.611; Finberg 1909, II, p.1017.
Hind 1910, pp.195–6.
Phythian 1910, p.104.
Wilton 1974, p.156.
Stainton 1985, p.54.
Wilton 1977, p.78.
Wilton 1982, pp.59–60.
Upstone 1993, p.34.
Stainton 1985, p.54.
Warrell 1995, p.110.
See Warrell 2003, p.188.
See Jeff Cotton, ‘Santa Marta’, The Churches of Venice, accessed 20 July 2018,
Warrell 2003, p.188.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.263 no.416, as ‘Venice, Evening, going to the Ball’, exhibited 1845, pl.420.
See Warrell 2003, p.188.
Upstone 1993, p.34.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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