Joseph Mallord William Turner

Shipping Moored ?off the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore or the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 246 × 305 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 31

Display caption

Turner’s watercolours of Venetian exteriors are dominated by the interplay of brilliant golds, yellows, blues and turquoise. Architecture tends to be lightly traced in pencil or ink, dissolving into mist, reflections and radiant light. They revel in the ‘indistinctness’ for which he was being attacked in public, and assert the artist’s right to interpret the world in personal and poetic terms.

This watercolour may represent the scene behind Palladio’s church of S Giorgio Maggiore, which Turner painted repeatedly on his visit.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Lagoon behind S. Giorgio and the Cantieri’), placing everything but the first word in square brackets: ‘Anywhere, wildly fantastic’.1 The title followed was unchanged from that in John Ruskin’s 1857 catalogue of exhibited Turner Bequest works,2 and the subject has remained somewhat resistant to identification. ‘Cantieri’ (or ‘cantiere’) means boat- or shipyard in Italian; in 1930 Finberg dropped the last three words in his revised listing of Venice subjects,3 and Bell commented again: ‘an imaginative fantasy’.4
There are old yards on the east side of the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, away from the island’s church, but the boats, including skeletal two or three-masted vessels silhouetted on the left apparently under construction or partly dismantled, seem to be in open water, with gondolas passing among the loosely defined brown forms of smaller craft in the foreground. There may be a connection with a page of pencil studies of shipping off San Giorgio in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31875; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 43a).
Ian Warrell described the present study as among those likely derived from Canaletto’s panoramic Bacino compositions.5 He has noted Ruskin’s grouping of ‘a series of views along the rambling Riva degli Schiavoni, which suggests that Turner explored its length by foot, as well as from the water’: Tate D32120 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 4) from 1840’s Grand Canal and Giudecca book, and D32157–D32160 (CCCXVI 20–23) in the present grouping,6 to which Warrell added D32167 (CCCXVI 30) and the present sheet,7 linked by ‘the brilliant sunshine refracted by the surface of the Bacino’.8
Of these, D32157 (CCCXVI 20) is the closest to the present work in its colour and unresolved handling, although its backdrop is clearly a view westwards along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront towards the domes of Santa Maria della Salute and the unmistakeable campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s).9 Andrew Wilton suggested that the two ‘make use of a rather cooler colour range than usual’ in the Venice waterfront studies, as compared with D32155 or D32158 (CCCXVI 18, 21) for example, and ‘detail is very slightly and nervously indicated’.10 Lindsay Stainton argued that here the ‘topographical element ... is of minor importance. ... The summary yet expressive treatment of the boats, the brilliance of the blue-green water and the blaze of clear light are the most striking features’.11
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1020.
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.296, 636.
Finberg 1930, p.174.
Undated MS note by Bell in copy of Finberg 1930, British Museum, London, as quoted in Stainton 1985, p.62.
See Warrell 2003, p.47.
Warrell 1995, p.100.
See Warrell 2003, pp.227, 265 note 36.
Ibid., p.227.
See Townsend 1998, p.138.
Wilton 1975, pp.139, 142.
Stainton 1985, p.62.
Townsend 1998, p.138.
See Hamilton, Moorby and Baker 2008, caption to pl.80, and 2009, p.144.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.296.
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.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.463 no.1356, reproduced.
Ibid., p.464 no.1365.
Warrell 2003, p.259.

Matthew Imms
July 2018

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