Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, across the Bacino from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian) towards Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour, bodycolour and graphite on paper
Support: 193 × 281 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 28

Display caption

Turner made a sequence of studies of Palladio's church of S. Giorgio Maggiore on his 1840 trip to Venice. The 'Autobiography' of the watercolourist William Callow (1812-1908) contains an interesting glimpse of Turner at work during this visit: 'The next time I saw Turner was at Venice, at Hotel Europa, where we sat opposite at meals and entered into conversation. One evening whilst I was enjoying a cigar in a gondola I saw Turner sketching San Giorgio, brilliantly lit up by the settting sun.' It is likely that a number of the studies made by Turner on this trip, including perhaps some of San Giorgio, were coloured in front of the motif.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This view to the south-east shows the entrance façade and campanile of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on its island across the Bacino, with rosy tints and strong shadows evoking the approach of sunset. Compare a much less resolved contemporary daytime study of the same subject (Tate D32148; Turner Bequest CCCXVI 11). The viewpoint is apparently from near the water level, and the loose initial pencil work was likely done from outside the Grand Canal frontage of the Hotel Europa (the Palazzo Giustinian), where Turner was staying; see the Introduction to this subsection. Colour could have been applied while observing the sunset effect from his elevated bedroom, from which the church was also visible (see Tate D32219; Turner Bequest CCCXVII 34). Ian Warrell has described the treatment of light as ‘extraordinarily subtle, confirming that the watercolour was painted direct from nature’.1
Albeit with a tighter focus on the church, this study acts fortuitously as a sunset counterpart to the well-known 1819 watercolour from the same angle in the Como and Venice sketchbook (Tate D15254; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4), with its limpid contre-jour early morning light.2 A similar evening mood suffuses an 1840 view of the Dogana and Santa Maria Salute (Tate D32166; Tate CCCXVI 29), which is comparable to another morning subject in the 1819 sketchbook (Tate D15256; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 6). Like the earlier pages, the two 1840 sheets form an approximate panorama, resolved in the 1842 painting The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa (Tate N00372).3 The present work and D32166 were paired in the early National Gallery display selected from the Turner Bequest; writing in 1857, John Ruskin noted they were ‘used by him as materials in his late Venetian paintings’.4
Andrew Wilton has compared the ‘handling’ of Tate D32140 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 3),5 a colour study of campanili and rooftops likely made directly from Turner’s window; it features similar brick reds and violets,6 and touches of gouache. Lindsay Stainton has likened the visual effect of the ‘flat washes of blue, buff and brick-red’ here evoking ‘forms arranged parallel to the picture surface’ in ‘a pattern of verticals, joining the form to its reflection’ to ‘the watercolours of [Paul] Cézanne’7 (1839–1906); compare the discrete touches of the late Montaigne San Victoire (Tate N05303). Whatever its unwitting abstract qualities, Stainton placed it ‘among the most brilliant of Turner’s Venetian studies of reflected light and colour’,8 and Anne Lyles has noted its ‘exquisite colour harmonies ranging from yellows and pinks to complementary blues and orange-red’.9
Warrell 2003, p.198.
See ibid.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.245–6 no.396, pl.400 (colour).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.296.
Wilton 1975, p.136.
See Warrell 2003, p.198.
Stainton 1985, p.27.
Ibid., p.62.
Lyles 1992, p.82.
Warrell 1993, p.307, and 1994, p.220.
See Warrell 2003, pp.198–9.
Ibid., p.199.
See Warrell 1993, p.307, and Warrell 1994, p.220.
Not in Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979; Warrell 2003, fig.216 (colour).
Warrell 2003, p.197.
Ibid., p.204.
Loshak and Wilton 1976, p.72.
Tipped in at back of copy in Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain.
Ibid., p.73.
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 1) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also p.138.
Not in Wilton 1979; Warrell 2003, fig.148 (colour).
Warrell 2003, p.259; see Bower 1999, pp.105–7 under no.59.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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