Joseph Mallord William Turner

Going to the Ball (San Martino)

exhibited 1846

On loan

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (Aarhus, Denmark): Turner Watercolours: Sun is God

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 616 × 924 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Venice, rich in literary and historical associations, was a popular subject in the 19th century. Here, boats take revellers to one of the city’s infamous masquerade balls as the sun sets and the moon rises.
Despite spending just under four weeks in the ‘City of Water’, Turner found great inspiration there: from 1833–46 Venetian scenes accounted for a third of his output. This work, with its pair, was his last painting of Venice. It was in Turner’s studio at the time of his death in 1851, and came to Tate as part of the Turner Bequest.

Gallery label, October 2013

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Catalogue entry

416. [N00544] Venice, Evening, Going to the Ball Exh. 1846


Canvas, 24 1/4 × 36 3/8 (61.5 × 92.5)

Coll. Painted for William Wethered, junior, of King's Lynn who, however, must have returned it to Turner before the artist's death (see Gage loc. cit. and entries for Nos. 421/2); Turner Bequest 1856 (one of 18–21, 36–40; see No. 383 [N00527]); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1921.

Exh. R.A. 1845 (117); Newcastle 1924 (160); Dresden (22, repr.) and Berlin (32) 1972; Lisbon 1973 (22, repr.); Hamburg 1976 (104, repr.); Mexico City (9, repr. p. 18) and Caracas (5) 1979; Athens 1980 (77, repr. in colour); Venice 1983–4 (11, repr. in colour as no. 13).

Lit. Ruskin 1843 (1903–12, iii, pp. 250–51); Bell 1901, pp. 152–3 no. 251; Armstrong 1902, p. 235; Finberg 1930, pp. 151, 158; Davies 1946, p. 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 407–8, 509 no. 565; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 66; Gage 1980, pp. 200, 207, 213–14.

Exhibited in 1845 with the caption ‘MS. Fallacies of Hope’; see Nos. 355 [N00371] for a possible explanation of the absence of any actual verses.

As the critic of the Spectator implied, 24 May, Turner's four Venetian scenes exhibited this year, two in the East Room and two in the Middle Room, cover the four ‘effects of morning and evening, noon and sunset’ (see Nos. 417 {N00544], 418 [N00541] and 419 [N00542]); however, ‘there may have been times when these different periods assimilated in nature as closely as they do in these pictures; only such must be exceptional cases!’ Earlier, on 10 May, theSpectator had written of the first two ‘with their magical effects of light and colour: the watery floor and aërial sky meet at the horizon in a gorgeous mass of orange and golden tints ... the intervening space being filled with the glowing atmosphere.’ Similarly, The Times for 6 May spoke of ‘a play of brilliant colours, sparkling as they vanish above smooth waters.’ Unfortunately, today one has to take most of these qualities on trust. The Morning Chronicle for 7 May returned to the way in which Turner's late pictures made sense at a distance. In this picture ‘the rising moon... with its long gleam of light coming across the waters, is really a curiosity worthy of study. Stuck on with the palette knife, or the thumb, who would think it would give the soft cool light it does? ... Regretting his apparently incurable mannerism, we cannot but admit that in the present instance he has somewhat cured it of its extravagance.’

Ruskin, in the later editions of Modern Painters i, writes ‘Of the Exhibition of 1845, I have only seen a small Venice (still, I believe, in the artist's possession) and the two Whaling subjects. The Venice is a second-rate work...’ He could be referring to this picture or to any one of Nos. 417 [N00543], 418 [N00541] and 419 [N00542].

The early histories of the two pairs of Going to and Returning from the Ball exhibits of 1845 and 1846 are greatly entwined. For an attempt to disentangle them, see the entry for Nos. 421 and 422.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984.

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