Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 328 × 486 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 16

Display caption

Shortly before his second trip to Italy
in 1828, Turner completed a watercolour of the celebrated view over Florence
from the church of San Miniato, on the other side of the River Arno. This is
a study for the finished work. Turner
used pencil sketches he had made more than eight years earlier to set out the basic composition. He then used this study as a guide when producing the finished watercolour, changing only certain details.


There are at least two versions of the completed watercolour, so Turner may have referred to this study in order to repeat his design.


Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This ‘colour beginning’ was recognised by Andrew Wilton1 as showing a view over Florence, looking north-west across the River Arno to the city with the Duomo in the distance on the right. Turner unusually produced two similar but distinct variant watercolours in about 1827 (Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry)2 and the following year (British Museum, London).3 Another version is long untraced, and its status as an autograph work is uncertain,4 as is that of a fourth, in a private collection.5 Of the Coventry and British Museum works, the former, with its figures to the right of central trees in the foreground, was the source for the engraving Florence in the 1828 edition of the annual Keepsake (Tate impressions: T05105, T06138; see the Introduction to this section). The other variant is superficially similar, but shows a group to the left of the trees and differs in many other smaller ways.
Towards the end of 1819, Turner spent time in Florence on the return leg of his first Italian tour, making drawings of the city from this direction in the Rome and Florence sketchbook (Tate D16571–D16573, D16590–D16594, D16596; Turner Bequest CXCI 51–52, 62a-64a, 65a). Although all the watercolours have come to be known conventionally as Florence, from San Miniato,6 implying a viewpoint in the vicinity of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte, in her catalogue entries for the sketches Nicola Moorby has noted Cecilia Powell’s observations on Turner’s manipulation of the scene,7 and instead placed the vantage points of D16590 and D16594, relatable to the 1827–8 works, somewhat further north near the church of San Salvatore al Monte.
In fact, Turner was already familiar with the prospect before his 1819–20 tour, having made a watercolour of Florence from the Chiesa al Monte (private collection),8 engraved in 1820 for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy (Tate impressions: T06027, T05110, T06158); for the project in general, see Moorby’s Introduction to the ‘First Italian Tour 1819–20’ section of this catalogue. That view had been based on Hakewill’s own direct drawing, and although its foreground is radically different, the detailed background probably informed Turner’s later works,9 as his own sketches in the area were not very meticulous. The immediately striking difference in the 1827–8 watercolours is the introduction of what Wilton characterised as the ‘forceful central vertical’10 of a cypress tree with others descending over the brow of the hill to the right towards the river; they are not hinted at in the present work, but the ‘basic opposition of warm colours on the right – the salmon pinks and ochres of the city – to the cooler hues of the river on the left is essentially the same’.11 As is typical of such studies, there is no clear indication of any figures.
See Wilton 1982, p.46; see also Warrell 1991, p.66, and Shanes 1997, pp.28, 98, 99.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.384 no.727, reproduced.
Ibid., p.384 no.728, reproduced.
Ibid., p.384 no.726, as private collection; noted by Ian Warrell as ‘attributed’ (unpublished notes, 2002, Tate files).
Ibid., p.384 no.728, reproduced, as ‘replica’ of no.727; noted by Warrell as ‘attributed’ (unpublished notes, 2002, Tate files).
As given in Wilton 1979.
See Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.93–4.
Wilton 1979, p.381 no.700.
But see Powell 1987, p.205 note 25 for some significant differences; see also Warrell 1991, p.66.
Wilton 1982, p.46.
See transcript of MS handlist in John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, pp.[237]–8, with ‘Florence’ as no.4 (p.[237]), and Powell 1987, pp.126–7; see also Wilton 1982, p.46.
See Warrell 1991, p.67.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

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