Joseph Mallord William Turner

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, at Sunset, from along the Riva degli Schiavoni


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 244 × 306 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 24

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘San Giorgio Maggiore’): ‘from the Dogana but wildly fantastic’.1 Although by 1881 he listed it as ‘San Giorgio’,2 in 1857 John Ruskin had called it ‘The Cemetery and Church of St. Michele de Murano’,3 on the Lagoon to the north of Venice, which Turner is not known to have visited. Idiosyncratically, he characterised the scene as in ‘a full flushed second twilight. Exquisitely beautiful for tender colour and atmosphere.’ This followed on from his discussion of Tate D32159 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 22), by ‘the first twilight ... which immediately precedes the sunset’, whereas the ‘“second” twilight, a peculiar flush, like a faint reflection of the sunset, ... succeeds the first twilight, after some minutes’.4
Once recognised, the well-known subject is clear; the church is apparently seen to the south-south-west, from ‘a little to the east of the Pietà church’ as Ian Warrell has noted,5 and possibly from as far east along the Riva degli Schiavoni and the quays continuing from it as the Rio Ca’ di Dio (see under Tate D32160; CCCXVI 23, in the present grouping), looking across the Canale di San Marco with the Isola della Giudecca indicated beyond, across the Bacino on the horizon to the right. Compare pencil studies featuring San Giorgio’s northern elevation in the contemporary Rotterdam to Venice sketchbook (Tate D32428, D32431; Turner Bequest CCCXX 84a, 86). Warrell describes a ‘vertical accent of a lighter colour slightly further to the left’ as ‘intended to represent one of the island’s lighthouses’.6
Warrell has quoted the memoirs of the much younger watercolourist William Callow (1812–1908): ‘whilst I was enjoying a cigar in a gondola I saw Turner in another one sketching San Giorgio, brilliantly lit up by the setting sun. I felt quite ashamed of myself idling away my time whilst he was hard at work so late.’7 However, he reasonably suggested that ‘the sketches Callow witnessed him making are more likely to have been a sequence of pencil jottings in the ‘Venice and Bozen’ sketchbook, many of which include a circular outline denoting the sun’ (Tate D31822, D31833–D31834, D31839, D31846, D31852, D31872; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 16a, 22, 22a, 25a, 29, 32, 41a)’,8 while here ‘it is most probable that Turner later recorded a strong impression, once he had returned to his hotel room’.9
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1020.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.373; see also ibid., p.212 footnote 2.
Ibid., p.212; see also Warrell 1995, p.104, and Warrell 2003, p.199.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.212 and asterisk footnote.
Warrell 2003, p.204.
Ibid., p.204.
Quoted ibid., p.197, from H.M. Cundall ed., William Callow: An Autobiography, London 1908, pp.66–7; see also Warrell 1995, p.105.
Warrell 2003, pp.197, 264 note 6.
Warrell 1995, p.105; see also Taft 2004, p.226.
Stainton 1985, p.62; see Warrell 2003, p.204, refuting this point.
See Lyles 1992, p.82.
Not in Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979; Warrell 2003, fig.216 (colour); see also Taft 2004, p.226.
Warrell 2003, p.197; see also p.199.
Ibid., p.204.
Wilton 1979, p.464 no.1365; Warrell 2003, fig.223 (colour).
See ‘Moon Phases for Venice, Italy’,, accessed 6 September 2018,
Wilton 1977, p.80; see also Stainton 1985, p.62.
Wilton 1979, p.463 no.1357, reproduced.
Warrell 2003, p.199; see also Stainton 1985, p.76.
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.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 2) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Wilton 1979, p.463 no.1356, reproduced.
Ibid., p.464 no.1365.
Warrell 2003, p.259.

Matthew Imms
July 2018

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