Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Church of San Simeone Piccolo, at Dusk

1840

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour, gouache and pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 219 × 320 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D32124
Turner Bequest CCCXV 8

Catalogue entry

The view is to the south-west along the Grand Canal (not far from its north-western entrance from the Lagoon), from about where the Ponte degli Scalzi now crosses the Grand Canal near the church of the same dedication on the right-hand side;1 beyond on that northern side is the Fondamenta Santa Lucia, shown open here where the entrance front of the railway station is now set back.
No individual buildings are identifiable in the left foreground, but the historic façades of the Palazzo Adoldo and Foscari-Contarini still survive there, with arches and balconies consistent with Turner’s calligraphic rendering of characteristic details at the left. Beyond, the main landmark, the Baroque church of San Simeone Piccolo (otherwise Santi Simeone e Giuda), is recognisable, albeit not shown particularly accurately; its dome should be more hemispherical and set back rather further from the pediment, perhaps indicating that the whole scene was evoked from memory and imagination.2 John Ruskin still recognised the structure, which he heartily disliked in reality,3 nevertheless calling this a ‘noble sketch; injured by some change which has taken place in the coarse dark touches on the extreme left’4 (see the technical notes below).
During all three Venice visits Turner had recorded the church in various pencil views: in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14475, D14478; Turner Bequest CLXXV 83a, 85); in the 1833 Venice book (D32076, D32080, D32087; CCCXIV 79a, 81a, 85a);5 and in the 1840 Venice and Botzen book (D31855–D31856; CCCXIII 33a, 34). Only the very last of these drawings, contemporary with this watercolour, was made looking in the same direction, where two variations show the dome on the left, as well as the canal front of the Scalzi on the right; potentially the page could have served as a basic reference in the development of the present composition. Ian Warrell has also suggested this as one of numerous subjects showing Turner’s awareness of engravings by Antonio Visentini (1688–1782) after the celebrated Venetian paintings of Canaletto (1697–1768);6 he has compared and contrasted Turner’s treatment here with that of Canaletto’s large, typically highly finished 1738 painting The Upper Reach of the Grand Canal with San Simeone Piccolo, with its similar viewpoint and clear afternoon light, which had entered London’s National Gallery collection in 1838.7
1
See also Warrell 2003, p.150; but see Stainton 1985, p.54, effectively placing the viewpoint further east, ‘not far from the entrance to the Cannaregio’.
2
See Warrell 2003, pp.150, 188.
3
See Stainton 1985, p.54, and Warrell 1995, p.109.
4
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.214.
5
See Warrell 1995, p.109.
6
See Warrell 2003, p.43.
7
See ibid., pp.150, 264 note 4, fig.152; see also Baetjer 2007, pp.167, 168.
8
Stainton 1985, p.54; see also Wilton 1975, p.146.
9
See Warrell 1995, p.109.
1
Warrell 1995, p.109.
2
Undated note by Ian Warrell in Tate catalogue files, as unconfirmed.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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