Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Procession, Perhaps in the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), Venice, at Night


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 227 × 292 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 14

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘A Procession (?)’): ‘nondescript’.1 Finberg himself subsequently noted that the setting was ‘probably in the Piazza’.2 The setting of this loosely worked ‘beginning’ of a figure scene is indeed difficult to place or interpret. It is apparently outdoors in the evening or at night, with arcades or colonnades at various angles, perhaps with a suggestion of tracery by yellow artificial light at the centre, or something illuminated, like the booth near the campanile in the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) in more finished contemporary works on similar paper (Tate D32250, D32258; Turner Bequest CCCXIX 2, 10).
Comparing the present work with D32250 and the moonlit Piazzetta scene in Tate D32220 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 1), Lindsay Stainton concurred that it likely shows a ‘procession, perhaps in the Piazza’, which ‘seems to be reminiscent of paintings ... by Canaletto and Guardi. There may also be echoes of [Richard Parkes] Bonington’s late Venetian pictures: his [Venice:] Ducal Palace with a religious procession had been exhibited in London in 1828 to considerable acclaim’3 (Tate N05789).
See also Tate D32231 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 12), with the same limited combination of colours and ghostly white figures, but perhaps in the arched interior of a church. D32244 (CCCXVIII 25), another interior, includes a crowd in largely undifferentiated white, presumably as a base colour for potential detailed work. Meanwhile, D32251 (CCCXIX 3) is another slight but atmospheric work included in the present subsection as another possible Piazza scene.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1027.
Finberg 1930, p.176.
Stainton 1985, p.47.
Technical notes:
There are adventitious splashes below left and above right of the centre, with scattered spotting towards the top left. 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])’;1 for numerous red-brown Fabriano sheets used for similar subjects, see for example under Tate D32224 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5).
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10.
According to Tate Registrars’ files.
See Bower 1999, p.112.
See Warrell 2003, p.259.
Ibid., pl.66A.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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