Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Entrance to the Rio di San Luca between the Palazzi Grimani and Corner Contarini dei Cavalli


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 221 × 324 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 7

Catalogue entry

From the north side of the Grand Canal level with the Palazzo Papadopoli, the view is to the south-east, straight down the Rio di San Luca at the centre. To its left and right are the imposing Palazzo Grimani and the smaller Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli, unusually shown in elevation in relation to the side canal rather than as part of a prospect along the main waterway; compare another 1840 colour study, Tate D32143 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 6).1
As Finberg noted, the north-western corner of Grimani actually forms an acute angle, but the effect of a kink or bulge as its western side is not ‘entirely imaginary’,2 as it turns away a little beyond the first two bays, creating a slight optical impression of convexity. Some of the watercolour details seem more fanciful, as though elaborated later rather than dashed in on the spot. The basically flat front of the Palazzo Corner, with its delicate filigree Gothic articulation, is made more of a sculptural mass in the shadows, and its tiled sloping roofline seems exaggerated, making it more imposing and creating the effect almost of a vertical classical pediment. Ian Warrell has noted the resulting effect of ‘harmonious conjunction’ between the two rather different buildings.3
In 1857, John Ruskin described this watercolour: ‘Very careless; but admitted into the series [of Venice views, as noted in this sketchbook’s Introduction] as being one of those used for the materials of the oil picture of “Shylock” and as showing a different method of study from most of the others.’4 By this he meant The Grand Canal, Venice (Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California),5 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice including a line of Shylock’s. It was in Ruskin’s own collection at the time he referred to it, somewhat gratuitously, since (aside from its now being known to pre-date the present work) its viewpoint is very different: from the south side of the canal, below the north-west corner of the Grimani, looking east to the Rialto Bridge. See under Tate D14455 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 73), the pencil drawing in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook which was the actual source of the painting. Tate D32121, from the present sketchbook (Turner Bequest CCCXV 5), is another instance of Ruskin’s confidently but spuriously linking an 1840 watercolour to an earlier painting.6
See Warrell 2003, p.156 for this and further scattered examples.
Finberg 1930, p.171.
Warrell 2003, p.151.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.213.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.219–20 no.368, pl.373 (colour).
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Wilton 1975, p.148.
Ibid.; see also Warrell 1995, p.108.
See Warrell and Perkins 1988, p.19, Wilton 1988, p.138, and Warrell 2003, p.151.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop