Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Canale della Giudecca, Venice, at Sunset, with the Lagoon towards Fusina


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and crayon on paper
Support: 221 × 323 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 13

Catalogue entry

In 1857, John Ruskin described the subject as ‘Looking up the Giudecca. Sunset’, and limited his direct commentary to declaring it: ‘The original sketch of the oil picture of “San Benedetto, looking towards Fusina.”’1 In the same year, he wrote at length about that painting, which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843 (Tate N00534):2
“San Benedetto” is a mistake of Turner’s; there being no church nor quarter belonging to that saint on either side of the Giudecca, or in any possible way included in this view ... and the only way of accounting for the title given, is that Turner might have half remembered the less frequently occurring name of St. Biagio, under whose protection the “fondamenta” – or block of houses on the left of this picture – with some spacious barracks, are verily placed. St. Biagio has no church, however; ... The buildings on the right are also, for the most part, imaginary in their details ... and yet, without one single accurate detail, the picture is the likest thing to what it is meant for – the looking out of the Giudecca landwards, at sunset – of all that I have ever seen. The buildings have, in reality, that proportion and character of mass, as one glides up the centre of the tide stream: they float exactly in that strange, mirage-ful, wistful way in the sea mist – rosy ghosts of houses without foundations; the blue line of poplars and copse about the Fusina marshes shows itself just in that way on the horizon; the flowing gold of the water, and quiet gold of the air, face and reflect each other just so; the boats rest so, with their black prows poised in the midst of the amber flame, or glide by so, the boatman stretched far aslope upon his deep-laid oar.3
He regarded the painting as ‘all in all ... the best Venetian picture of Turner’s which he has left to us’.4
Ruskin had mentioned San Biagio, and Ian Warrell has identified ‘the shell of the deconsecrated church of Santi Biagio e Cataldo’ silhouetted on the left; a complementary view towards the city in this sketchbook shows the same building on the right (Tate D32128: Turner Bequest CCCXV 12).5 See under the latter for details of the subsequently demolished convent and its situation, where the Molino Stucky mill and factory complex6 (now a hotel) stands on the Fondamenta San Biagio. Warrell has linked the two colour studies featuring it with two others in this sketchbook, perhaps showing the waterfront around Santa Marta (D32125–D32126; CCCXV 9, 10), on the north side (to the right here) at this then relatively quiet western end of the Canale della Giudecca, since much developed with consequent complications in identifying the settings.7 There may be a connection with waterfront pencil sketches of the vicinity in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31852; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 32); the upper view there, with the sun setting beyond buildings on the north side of the canal, is comparable with the right-hand side of the present composition.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.215.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.254 no.406, pl.411 (colour).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.164–6; partly quoted and paraphrased in Warrell 1995, pp.114–15.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.166.
Warrell 2003, p.194; see also p.188.
See also Warrell 1995, p.114.
Warrell 2003, p.188.
See Butlin 1962, p.66, Wilton 1974, p.153, Wilton 1979, p.212, Wilton 1982, p.60, Butlin and Joll 1984, p.254, Stainton 1985, p.55, Upstone 1993, p.39, Warrell 1995, p.114, Herrmann 2001, p.363, Warrell 2003, p.194, and Moorby 2014, p.115.
Warrell 1995, p.114.
See Warrell 2003, p.194.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.264 no.419, pl.423.
Warrell 2003, p.194.
Ibid., p.194; see also Warrell 2012, p.131.
See also Ian Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002.
Stainton 1985, p.56; for the latter point, see Wilton 1975, p.142; see also Upstone 1993, p.39.
Gage 1969, p.39.
See Sam Smiles, ‘Open air, work in’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.205–7.
Phythian 1910, p.104.
Wilton 1975, p.139; see also p.142.
Ibid., p.143.
Ibid., p.142; see also Wilton 1977, p.81.
See homepage of Gertrude Jekyll: The Official Website of the Jekyll Estate, accessed 17 July 2018,
Pantzer 1963, p.50 no.47, reproduced in monochrome; not in Martin F. Krause, Turner in Indianapolis: The Pantzer Collection of Drawings and Watercolors by J.M.W. Turner and his Contemporaries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis 1997.
Pantzer 1963, p.52 no.49.
Warrell 2003, p.272; see also p.215.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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