Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Couple in a Bedroom, ?Venice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 226 × 295 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 9

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s noncommittal 1909 Inventory entry (‘An interior’), calling the subject ‘quite nondescript’,1 presumably in terms of its precise significance rather than its treatment, which is relatively clear. Finberg grouped the sheet with numerous identifiable Venice views on the grounds of the similarity of their technique and support (see the technical notes below), although it seems there is nothing unquestionably Venetian in the loosely rendered setting here, apparently a large bedroom with the glimmer of pale sheets within a curtained bed on the far side, with arcing white strokes in the shadows above suggesting a vaulted or decorated ceiling. The strong blue at the window evokes a night scene, perhaps with moonlight catching the outlines of the two standing figures; their summary combination of dusky pink and white suggests at least a degree of nudity, and the shorter figure appears to be a woman, perhaps in the act of letting a dark dress fall to the floor.
The work has previously attracted little comment. Lindsay Stainton has tentatively suggested that along with Tate D32233, D32237 and D32239 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 4, 18, 20), it may be among those showing ‘the interior of a theatre or recollections of a play in progress’.2 D32233 perhaps instead shows a Venetian workshop, and while D32237 does represent a theatre, D32239 is another ambiguous figure scene with partially dressed women, albeit perhaps with a distant echo of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a source which Turner had previously and unconventionally linked with Venice. Tate D32236 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 17), a technically related bedroom scene, with a nude in a state of abandonment on a bed while at least one other figure stands by, has likewise been linked to Desdemona’s murder towards the end of Othello. If that were the case, it might argue for the present subject showing a preceding episode in Shakespeare’s drama (subtitled ‘the Moor of Venice’, albeit largely set in Cyprus), perhaps with Othello and Desdemona together.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1027.
Stainton 1985, p.47.
‘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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