Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Bridge over a Side Canal, Venice, at Night

1840

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk, gouache, ink wash and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 252 × 293 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D32242
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 23

Catalogue entry

This evocative but only partly developed subject centres on a typical small bridge over a side canal, with bright patches to left and right, perhaps indicating light from a window and moonlight respectively. There may be a dark figure in a gondola beneath the bridge, and there seem to be other figures catching the light at the right. Another arch is foreshortened on the left, adding to the spatial complexity and sense of what Lindsay Stainton has termed ‘glimpses along mysterious calli and narrow canals or into dark interiors’ in such works, ‘rapid sketches dashed onto the paper with extraordinary freedom of handling and economy of means’.1
Tate D32243 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 24) is a variation on the theme. The present design has the air of a labyrinthine stage set, perhaps awaiting the introduction of a shadowy cast of characters; compare more developed contemporary studies in the parallel grouping of interiors and figure scenes, such as Tate D32240 and D36089 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 20, CCCLXIV 392).
1
Stainton 1985, p.48.
Technical notes:
The white area towards the top right has been rubbed vigorously to soften the effect compared with the glaring light on the left. Much of the sheet has been left bare as a middle tone; Lindsay Stainton has noted how the ‘steps of the bridge are convincingly suggested with just a calligraphic trail of white bodycolour [gouache] and a few touches of black wash’.1
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Grey-brown paper produced by an unknown maker (possibly ... a batch made at Fabriano [Italy])’;2 for numerous red-brown Fabriano sheets used for similar subjects, see for example under Tate D32224 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5).
Warrell noted the grey-brown sheets as being torn into two formats: nine sheets of approximately 148 x 232 mm (Tate D32220, D32249–D32250, D32252–D32253, D32255–D32258; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 1, CCCXIX 1, 2, 4, 5, 7–10), and seven of twice the size, at about 231 x 295 mm (Tate D32223, D32226, D32228–D32229, D32231, D32233, D32242; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 23).
1
Ibid.
2
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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