Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s), Venice, from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian) at Night, with Fireworks over the Molo


On loan

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (Aarhus, Denmark): Turner Watercolours: Sun is God

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour, bodycolour and chalk on paper
Support: 228 × 300 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 10

Display caption

During the mid-1830s and the early 1840s Turner became increasingly interested in exploring dramatic effects of light and shade. Turner’s combination of dark-toned watercolour, bodycolour and chalk in this work is perfectly suited to the subject of fireworks at night. He uses only a few colours: blue, red and touches of dark brown and, most dramatically, white for the sparks of the fireworks.

Turner’s Venetian works on brown paper have recently been re-dated to 1840, although this continues to be controversial amongst scholars and the works may date from 1833.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The silhouetted campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) is seen to the north-east, with the dim evening or night sky is momentarily enlivened by fireworks bursting over the Molo waterfront of the Bacino south of the Piazza (St Mark’s Square) and Piazzetta. Towards the right appear to be indications of the pale classical façade and dome of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on its island to the south-east, reflected in the dark water. There are twinkling points of artificial light here and there, and a steadier glow from a dormer window or small penthouse in the left foreground. Finberg described the scene, as ‘we look down upon the attics and roofs of the buildings which extend between the Calle del Ridotto and the office of the Captain of the Port. The Zecca stands out dark against the Piazzetta front of the Ducal Palace, which is lit up by the Roman candles and rockets fired from some ships moored off the Riva [degli Schiavoni].’1
By comparison with other works and as first proposed by Finberg,2 the viewpoint is the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian), where Turner stayed in 1840 (see the introduction to this subsection), looking either from his room, apparently high up at the north-eastern corner, or the roof above it. The immediate foreground is likely the roof of the adjacent Palazzo Vallaresso Erizzo. The tower is seen through the windows of the room in Tate D32219 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 34). Compare also Tate D32142, D32173, D32179, D32224, D32254, D35882 and D35949 in the present grouping (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 5, 36, 42, CCCXVIII 5, CCCXIX 6, CCCLXIV 43, 106).3 D32224 and D32254 also explore night effects, being respectively lit by the soft glow of the moon and a jagged flash of lightning.4 D32248 (CCCXVIII 29) shows a rocket illuminating the dome of Santa Maria della Salute, likely also observed from the hotel, albeit looking the other way.
Lindsay Stainton discussed this and other rooftop views in relation to the painting Juliet and her Nurse, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836 (private collection; engraved in 1842 as ‘St Mark’s Place, Venice’: Tate impression T05188),5 with its view eastwards to the campanile from high above the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with fireworks in the distance. Numerous watercolours (often night scenes) now associated with Turner’s 1840 stay in Venice were formerly considered likely preparatory studies and consequently dated prior to the painting; see the Introduction to the present tour.6
Finberg 1930, pp.88, 93.
See Finberg 1930, p.176.
See also Wilton 1974, pp.155, 157, Stainton 1985, p.61, Lyles 1992, p.69, and Warrell 2003, p.24.
See Warrell 2003, pp.140, 264 note 28.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.215–17 no.365, pl.369 (colour).
See Stainton 1985, pp.24, 50, Lyles 1992, p.69, and Warrell 2003, pp.20, 71.
Finberg 1930, pl.XVI.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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