Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fishermen on the Lagoon near Venice, by Moonlight

1840

On loan

Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville, USA): The Sea and the Alps: Turner's Quest for the Sublime

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 192 × 280 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D36192
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 334

Catalogue entry

This subject has been slow to emerge as relating to Venice. Finberg’s 1909 Inventory listed it as a ‘Lake view, moonlight’.1 While he compared its ‘deep rich colouring’ and ‘such details of handling as the flat modelling of the raft and some of the blues when the paper was wet’ with those of an accepted view of the Venetian Lagoon at sunset (Tate D32162; Turner Bequest CCCXVI 25), Martin Butlin detected ‘distant hills’ here and suggested Switzerland as the setting, dating this work to the mid 1830s.2
Although exhibited as a ‘Lagoon view, moonlight’ in 1963–4, the subject subsequently continued to be described in published texts in terms of being a ‘lake’ view. While noting Butlin’s observations, in attempting to transcribe Turner’s somewhat illegible verse on the back (D40182) Andrew Wilton had suggested in 1975 that ‘Venice’ was mentioned, perhaps indicating the subject of the composition as ‘the Lagoon with a very faint indication of a campanile towards the right’, where a dark stroke above the horizon counterbalances the moon on the left. Nevertheless, while dating this sheet speculatively to 1840, he compared the effect and generic elements to those of a finished watercolour of the mid 1800s, Lake of Brienz, Moonlight (currently untraced),3 an indication of the recurrences and variations on established compositional formulae in Turner’s practice; see also the finished Blue Rigi, Sunrise of 1842 (Tate T12336).4
Having established in relation to the 2003 Turner in Venice exhibition that the present watercolour was painted on one eighth of a divided sheet of which other portions were used for more readily identifiable subjects associated with Turner’s 1840 visit (see the technical notes below), Ian Warrell has described it as showing ‘figures on a boat drawn up alongside one of the makeshift platforms used by fishermen and the hunters of the Lagoon’s wildfowl’, where ‘the central figure holds what could either be a rod or a gun, though both seem at odds with the absolute stillness of the scene’5 (again, compare the Blue Rigi, at the moment where the peace is disturbed by dogs jumping from a boat to chase water birds). Warrell has observed that the lines on the back meditate on ‘the idea of serene moonlight’.6
1
Finberg 1909, II, p.1202.
2
Butlin 1962, p.60.
3
Wilton 1975, p.150; for the earlier watercolour, see Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.342 no.374, pl.98.
4
Ibid., p.483 no.1524, pl.248 (colour).
5
Warrell 2003, p.236.
6
Ibid.
7
Hardie 1939, p.23 no.66 (S.240).

Matthew Imms
September 2018

1
Butlin 1962, p.60.
2
Albeit 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, p.81, notes that the Muggeridge family had taken over after 1820, still using the ‘C Ansell’ watermark.
3
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 1) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also p.138.
4
Not in Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979; Warrell 2003, fig.148 (colour).
5
Warrell 2003, p.259; 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.

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