Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa

exhibited 1842

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 616 × 927 mm
frame: 870 × 1175 × 110 mm
Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

Display caption

When a critic saw this picture at the Royal Academy in 1842, he said, ‘Venice was surely built to be painted by Turner’. Turner was attracted to how water, light, sky and grand architecture interacted in the city. Here he captures the reflections of the churches of San Giorgio Maggiore and Santa Maria della Presentazione, known as the ‘Zitelle’ (or Citella). He painted this scene from his hotel, The Europa, at the mouth of the Grand Canal.

Gallery label, July 2020

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

396. [N00372] The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa Exh. 1842


Canvas, 24 1/4 × 36 1/2 (62 × 92·5)

Coll. Robert Vernon, purchased at the R.A. 1842 and given to the National Gallery 1847; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1949.

Exh. R.A. 1842 (52); Chelsea Society, May 1948; Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen 1949–50 (98); Arts Council tour 1952 (19, repr.); Edinburgh 1968 (19); R.A. 1974–5 (532, repr. in colour p. 147); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (66, repr.); Munich 1979–80 (260, repr.); Paris 1983–4 (67, repr.).

Lit. ‘The Vernon Gallery: The Dogana’, Art Journal 1849, p. 260, engr. J.T. Willmore; Hall, i, 1850, no. 7, engr. J.T. Willmore; Hall 18512, p. 8 no. 54; Cunningham 1852, p. 46; Waagen 1854, i, p. 385 as no. 57, second of ‘the two views of Venice’; Thornbury 1862, i, p. 322; Wornum 1875, pp. 64–5, engr.; Thornbury 1877, p. 449; Vernon Heath, Recollections 1892, p. 353; Bell 1901, pp. 143–4 no. 231; Armstrong 1902, p. 235; Finberg 1930, pp. 140, 156, pl. 27; Davies 1946, p. 147; Clare 1951, p. 111; Finberg 1961, pp. 390, 506 no. 545; Kitson 1964, pp. 81–2, repr. in colour p. 65; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 66, colour pl. xxii; Herrmann 1975, pp. 49, 234, pl. 158; Butlin 1981, p. 43.

Turner seems to have stayed at the Hotel Europa on some if not all of his visits to Venice. There are many drawings and watercolours made from the hotel, including views of fireworks taken from the roof or an upper room. Exceptionally among Turner's late oil paintings, this picture seems to be in part taken from a drawing of the Dogana and the Zitelle (the ‘Citella’ of Turner's title) in the ‘Milan to Venice’ sketchbook, made on Turner's first visit in 1819 (CLXXV-40, repr. Finberg 1930, pl. 2). However, the view is such a well-known one that recourse to a drawing may not have been necessary. A similar view but omitting San Giorgio on the left appears in the watercolour entitled The New Moon in a private collection (W 1365; repr. in colour exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, p. 289 no. 236). This probably dates from about 1840 but, pace Finberg (ibid., pp. 140, 161, colour pl. 24), is unlikely to have been used as a basis for the oil as the viewpoint is slightly different.

Thornbury's reference to a painting of ‘“Canal of the Giudecca, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Dogana” and other objects’ as having been exhibited in 1834 and bought by Vernon is a confusion with the Venice of that year (No. 356). This mistaken identification seems first to occur in the first edition of Ralph N. Wornum's Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Pictures in the National Gallery ...: British School 1857, p. 80; it is not found in Hall 1851. The picture was listed in Vernon's deed of gift of 22 December 1847 merely as ‘Venice’. Given to the National Gallery by Vernon with three other Turners in 1847 (Nos. 343 [N00369], 349 [N00370] and 355 [N00371]), it was placed on view as a token of the whole of Vernon's collection of contemporary British painting, the first Turner to be shown in the National Gallery.

This picture and the other Venetian oil exhibited in 1842, Campo Santo, Venice (No. 397), were, on the whole, highly praised by the critics. For the Spectator, 7 May, they were ‘Two lovely views of Venice, gorgeous in hue and atmospheric in tone.’ For the Athenaeum of the same date they were ‘among the loveliest, because least exaggerated pictures, which this magician (for such he is, in right of his command over the spirits of Air, Fire, and Water) has recently given us. Fairer dreams never floated past poets' eye; and the aspect of the City of Waters is hardly one iota idealised. As pieces of effect, too, these works are curious; close at hand, a splashed palette—an arm's length distant, a clear and delicate shadowing forth of a scene made up of crowded and minute objects!’ The Art Union for 1 June was rather more critical. ‘Venice was surely built to be painted by Canaletto and Turner ... The Venetian pictures are now among the best this artist paints, but the present specimens are of a decayed brilliancy; we mean, they are by no means comparable with others he has within a few years exhibited. A great error in Mr. Turner's smooth water pictures is, that the reflection of colours in the water are painted as strongly as the substances themselves, a treatment which diminishes the value of objects.’

Noting that the two pictures were coupled in many contemporary reviews Christopher Mullen has suggested (exh. cat., Munich 1979–80) that they were paired as representing Venice at its apogee, with the Dogana as symbol of mercantile power, and in decline, with the island cemetery of the Campo Santo on the island of San Michele. John Gage (exh. cat., Paris 1983–4) supports this by pointing to the contrast between the pots on the steps on the right of No. 396 [N00372] (one of Turner's last-minute additions), which probably represent imported luxury ware, and the floating garbage in the foreground of Campo Santo. He also suggests that the juxtaposition of the highly coloured pots with the black and white dogs in No. 396 [N00372] summarises Turner's range both of colour and of depth of tone.

The painting is painted on a canvas bearing the third form of the Thomas Brown stamp, which seems to have come in in about 1839.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

You might like

In the shop