Joseph Mallord William Turner

Shipping off the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, near the Ponte dell’Arsenale, with San Giorgio Maggiore, Santa Maria della Salute and the Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) Beyond

1840

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 243 × 306 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D32157
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 20

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Shipping on the Riva degli Schiavone’): ‘from near the Ponte dell’Arsenale, sunset’.1 This seems about right in terms of the alignment of the distant landmarks, although there is no specific foreground detail to establish the exact viewpoint. The campanile and dome of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore appear on the left to the south-west across the Canale di San Marco, beyond a cluster of sails and masts; in 1857 John Ruskin declared that the ‘composition of these sails and groups of ships leading the eye into the distance is very beautiful’.2 Silhouetted towards the central glare of what seems to be the sinking sun are the domes of Santa Maria della Salute across the Bacino to the west; and the campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) is shown to the west-north-west on the right, as pale, not quite vertical and largely blank, with a few touches of yellow. Ian Warrell has also compared the backdrop of an evening scene (D32150; CCCXVI 13), where, as here, ‘topography is subservient to the general vaporous effect’, particularly in the ‘unresolved’ treatment of the campanile.3
The time of day here is uncertain and presumably would have involved further development and harmonisation, as the campanile would be silhouetted towards evening, whereas its brightness and that of the right-hand side generally implies morning light from behind or beside the viewer. At any event, Finberg was unusually effulgent in his description, albeit with reservations: ‘the colour of the water has become an ecstasy of the most heavenly blue; but it is only a moment of rapture set in a ghostly confusion of shipping, palaces, churches and towers.’4 Elsewhere, he described ‘warm, palpitating light’ towards the right:
No words can describe the intense blaze of light, the brilliance of the colours and their perfect harmony. The execution is breathlessly hurried and seemingly reckless, yet always perfectly under control; the artist’s hand is so audaciously swift because the full value of his colours can only be got in this way. Human skill can go no further in this direction ...5
1
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1019.
2
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.211.
3
Warrell 1995, p.100.
4
Finberg 1930, pp.125–6; also quoted in Stainton 1985, p.59; see also Warrell 2003, p.227.
5
Finberg 1910, p.132.
6
Wilton 1975, pp.139, 142; see also Stainton 1982, p.68, Stainton 1985, p.59, and Townsend 1998, p.138.
7
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.423 no.1037, reproduced, as ?c.1833; Warrell 2003, p.259, section 8.
8
Cormack 1975, p.68.
9
See Warrell 2003, p.47.
10
Warrell 1995, p.100.
11
See Warrell 2003, pp.227, 265 note 36.
12
Warrell 2003, p.227.
13
See Broughton, Clarke and Selbourne 2005, p.241, reproduced in colour.
1
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.
2
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 2) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
3
Wilton 1979, p.463 no.1356, reproduced.
4
Ibid., p.464 no.1365.
5
Warrell 2003, p.259.

Matthew Imms
July 2018

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