Joseph Mallord William Turner

Returning from the Ball (St Martha)

exhibited 1846

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 616 × 924 mm
frame: 888 × 1195 × 120 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

The pair to Morning, returning from the Ball, St Martino (not displayed), and first exhibited with it with a reference, but no quotation, from Turner's manuscript poem Fallacies of Hope. Both pictures were painted to commissions, in this case for William Wethered of King's Lynn, but were returned to the artist who must then have placed them in his Gallery. Turner exhibited a similar pair in 1846.

Gallery label, August 2001

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Technique and condition

Venice – Evening: Going to the Ball is painted in oil with resinous glazes on a commercially primed linen canvas. The creamy-white ground gives the finely woven linen canvas a smooth surface finish. Browns of Holborn supplied Turner with this primed canvas ready-tacked to a four member expandable stretcher fitted with a loose lining.

Turner applied a base layer of creamy-white oil paint. He worked up the sky with impasto in the clouds applied with a brush and palette knife. This he followed by thin resinous glazes of a well-bodied medium-rich paint to add tones and hues over the pale base in both sky and sea. Thick smudges of pale paint evoke highlights on buildings. Later details were added with a fine brush after the paint had dried for a while. This paint beaded on application and formed dotted linear marks, principally as accents on the buildings and on the group of figures in the lower left.

Colours have faded, in particular the pale red, and vestiges of this appear in the diagonal glow across the sky. It is likely that the resinous content of the medium-rich paint has darkened. The painting remains sensitive to light and is normally displayed at low light levels to slow down the rate of colour change.

The loose lining was removed in 1959 and placed in the Conservation Archive at Tate. At this time the painting was lined with wax/resin onto Terylene fabric. At the same time, a natural resin varnish was removed and a light layer of a synthetic/natural resin mixture was sprayed over the remaining varnish to recover a glossy surface appearance.

May 2000

Catalogue entry

417. [N00543] Morning, Returning from the Ball, St. Martino Exh. 1845


Canvas, 24 1/2 × 36 1/2 (62 × 92·5)

Coll. Painted for Francis McCracken of Belfast but returned to the artist almost certainly by the autumn of 1846 at the latest (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 1912.

Exh. R.A. 1845 (162); Whitechapel 1953 (98); on loan to Yale University Art Museum, New Haven 1964–7; Dresden (23, repr.) and Berlin (33) 1972; Lisbon 1973 (23, repr.); Hamburg 1976 (105, repr. and colour pl. 24).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, ii, p. 195; 1877, p. 399; Bell 1901, p. 153 no. 252; Armstrong 1902, p. 235; Finberg 1930, pp. 151, 158; Davies 1946, p. 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 407–8, 509 no. 566; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 66; Gage 1980, pp. 201, 207, 213–14.

Exhibited in 1845 with the caption ‘MS. Fallacies of Hope’. Punch (January–June 1845, p. 236) decided to make good the lack of any actual quotation from the Fallacies of Hope in this instance’, as the picture ‘really seems to need a little explanation’; as Turner 'is too modest to quote the Fallacies of Hope, we will quote it for him:

‘Oh! what a scene! – Can this be Venice? No.
And yet methinks it is—because I see
Amid the lumps of yellow, red, and blue,
Something which looks like a Venetian spire.
That dash of orange in the background there
Bespeaks 'tis Morning! And that little boat
(Almost the colour of Tomata sauce,)
Proclaims them now returning from the ball!
This is my picture, I would fain convey,
I hope I do. Alas! What FALLACY!’

Punch (ibid., p. 233) also commented on the two pictures with two near-featureless drawings entitled ‘Venice by Gaslight—Going to the Ball’ and ‘Venice by Daylight—Returning from the Ball’, both subtitled ‘MS. Fallacies of Hope (An unpublished Poem.)’

See the entry for No. 416 [N00544] for other press criticism of the 1845 pair, and the entry for Nos. 421 and 422 for the early histories of the four Venetian Ball subjects. ‘St. Martino’ seems to have been and invention of Turner's; see Nos. 421–2.

The picture, like a number of other late works, was painted on a double canvas supplied by T. Brown. Before relining it bore the firm's stamp in the form that seems to have come into use in about 1839.

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

You might like

In the shop