Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sunset, ?over the Lagoon near Venice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 192 × 280 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 12

Catalogue entry

This is one of three colour studies on grey paper (Tate D32191, D32202, D32203; Turner Bequest CCCXVII 12, 17, 18) included in the present grouping of Venice Lagoon subjects. Only the last of these has previously been proposed in recent years as relating to Turner’s 1840 visit. The other two are included here tentatively by association in terms of the similarity of their grey paper supports (see the technical notes below) and their having originally been included in the ‘Venice: Miscellaneous. (b) Grey Paper’ section of Finberg’s 1909 Inventory, albeit the present work was among a handful (D32185–D32191; CCCXVII 6–12) on similar paper of which he noted ‘some – probably all ... are not Venetian subjects’, but likely ‘done at the same time’,1 while the other two were given generic titles. D32185–D32190 are included elsewhere in the present tour.
The subject here, with silhouetted figures perhaps with a beached boat or on a pontoon in the shallows in the foreground, is comparable in its sparse articulation of space with watercolours identified more positively as Lagoon views (see D32162, D36192; Turner Bequest CCCXVI 25, CCCLXIV 334). The central sunset was a common motif for Turner (see the ‘Colour Studies of the Sun, Skies and Clouds c.1815–45’ section of this catalogue), deriving ultimately from the seaport paintings of the French-born, Rome-based artist Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682).2 Compare the sunset over water in D32203, another of the grey paper sheets in this subsection as mentioned above, as well as a view of Barnstaple Bridge in Devon from about 1814 (Tate D25443; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 320), showing his long-standing use of the striking compositional device.
Writing in 1857, John Ruskin considered this study ‘of consummate work’.3 Reflecting the later tendency to regard Turner as a precursor to the Impressionists, C.A. Swinburne included it among ‘numerous studies of waves as influenced by tides and storms’, which ‘explain how and why it was that he became a master of marine painting. There is no studio work in them; they are all reproductions of nature, and bear nature’s mark upon them’.4
Finberg 1909, II, p.1022; see also Finberg 1930, p.175, and Wilton 1974, p.160.
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Cooke and Wedderburn 1904, p.281.
Swinburne 1902, pp.245–6.
See Ian Warrell in Warrell, David Laven, Jan Morris and others, Turner and Venice, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, pp.258–9.
See Cecilia Powell, Turner in Germany, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, p.145, except D32185; it too is confirmed as Bally, Ellen and Steart paper in 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.105.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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