Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figures on a Bridge, Venice, at Night


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 224 × 286 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 24

Display caption

The sheer number of different papers that Turner actually used differentiates him from many other artists. He acquired new papers on every journey on his constant travels throughout Britain and the Continent, either as whole sheets or as pages from sketchbooks.

It is highly likely that this paper came from one of the mills near Venice. Several of the ‘brown’ papers that Turner worked on in Venice are actually different tones of grey, mostly of Italian manufacture. Some have been badly affected by light damage, turning them from grey to various tones of dark brown.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This freely worked, only partly developed subject employs simple, direct means to evoke a typical small bridge over a side canal, with figures dashed in with strokes of white, black and pink passing across. Among various contemporary interior and figure scenes, compare in particular the summary treatment of the theatre audience in Tate D32237 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 18). Buildings on either side have been suggested by leaving areas of the bare grey paper reserved against the washes of what is likely a night sky.
Technical notes:
There is some dark spotting, but the colours and the tone of the support remain relatively fresh, as this sheet was not exhibited for prolonged periods at an early date, unlike some on similar supports which have suffered accordingly, such as Tate D32222 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 3). The black used for the central figure appears particularly dense.
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Grey wove [paper], with a textured surface, produced by an unknown maker’ mostly measuring around 218 x 285 mm:1 Tate D32222, D32234–D32236, D32243–D32244 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 3, 15–17, 24, 25).
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 12) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Blank, with dark brown localised staining where the black has bled through from the recto; inscribed by Turner in ink ‘30’ bottom right, upside down; inscribed in pencil ‘57’ above centre, ascending vertically; inscribed in pencil ‘Solid’ towards bottom left, upside down; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXVIII – 23’ bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXVIII 24’ towards bottom right. For Turner’s ink numbers on the backs of Venice sheets, see the Introduction to the tour.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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