Joseph Mallord William Turner

Boats on the Bacino, Venice, off the Dogana, with the Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) and Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 193 × 281 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 20

Catalogue entry

Albeit presenting a coherent and convincing vista, this is a composite, considerably compressed and idealised view. The campanile of San Marco is aligned above the Zecca and Libreria Sansoviniana, seen from the south (from near the Zitelle) across the Bacino, but the porch of the Dogana, towards the left with the campanile of San Moisè above it and the Seminario Patriarcale in steep recession towards it at the left-hand edge, has been brought in a long way from the west.
Although the perspective effect of the nearer buildings is not so pronounced here, and other details differ significantly, the general effect is immediately reminiscent of one of Turner’s first oil paintings of the city, Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1833 (Tate N00370),1 just prior to the second of his three stays. At a time when the dates of the visits had yet to be firmly established, Jerrold Ziff even proposed the present sheet as a preparatory study for the painting,2 whereas Ian Warrell has implied that it was executed (at least in part) directly in front of the subject, as a reprise of the composition: ‘Turner located the precise spot he had attempted to depict on one of his subsequent visits, and was presumably forced to recognise that his perspective in the painting was flawed’; this version ‘gives a much more accurate idea of how the architectural elements come together’.3 Compare Tate D32206 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 21) in this subsection, a less distorted impression of the Dogana from a similar viewpoint near the Zitelle, as an extended version of the left-hand side here centred on the domes of Santa Maria della Salute above the Seminario.
The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Ducal Palace and Campanile’): ‘no scaffolding on cuspide’.4 The evidence of building work around the spire is a key pointer for other views belonging to 1840 (see the Introduction to the tour); Lindsay Stainton, provisionally associating this sheet with that year, suggested that ‘Turner probably just decided to omit it’ from ‘one of his favourite views’.5 In discussing a grey paper watercolour of Burg Hals, which Turner visited on his 1840 return route through Austria and Germany (Tate D28997; Turner Bequest CCXCII 49), Cecilia Powell has compared its ‘clear blue and turquoise green’ with those used for the present sheet.6 For her technical linking and dating of the German 1840 subjects with particular Venice sheets, see the Introduction to the tour, and for the uncertainty of the dating of this and a few other sheets in relation to 1833 or 1840, see the subsection Introduction.
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 Ziff 1971, p.126.
Warrell 2003, p.179.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1024.
Stainton 1985, p.51.
Powell 1995, p.163.
See Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.105–7 under no.59.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ in Warrell 2003, p.258; the six works are individually dated ‘1833 or 1840’ elsewhere in the book; see also pp.21, 90.
See ibid., p.259, section 8.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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