Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Balbi and the Mocenigo Palaces, and the Rialto Bridge in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 223 × 328 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 20

Display caption

Lines representing vertical parts of the palazzo at the left lean both to the left and to the right. This may be simply because Turner worked quickly, but the fact that the watercolour brushwork fails to keep to the same direction as the pencil drawing shows that he did not have a consistent approach to depicting the vertical sides of buildings.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Looking east-north-east along the Grand Canal from off the Ca’ Foscari, the Palazzo Balbi stands in the left foreground, shown without the characteristic twin obelisks above its façade. The slightly undulating, continuous waterfront on left is not much differentiated until slight indications of the obelisks of the Palazzo Papadopoli just to the left of where the Rialto Bridge closes the prospect along the canal, with the campanile of San Bartolomeo beside it. Just to the right is the sunlit dome of the large church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo,1 about half as far again beyond the bridge from this viewpoint.
Coming back along the opposite side towards the right, there is again little differentiation before the Mocenigo palaces come into more focus towards the right, with the Palazzo Contarini della Figura the last before the start of the bend to the south, and the lower Gothic Palazzo Erizzo Nani Mocenigo on the far right. Early afternoon light apparently strikes diagonally across these last frontages, running south-west to north-east, with an immediacy suggesting direct observation. Turner had made a detailed pencil survey of the whole prospect from a similar point in his 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14452–D14453; Turner Bequest CLXXV 71a–72).2 Ian Warrell has noted the perhaps more than fortuitous echo of one of Canaletto’s well-known views.3
Tate D32118 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 2) in the present book is a view in the same direction from much closer to the bridge, while D32117 (CCCXV 1) shows the complementary view back to the Ca’ Foscari.4 The watercolour Palazzo Balbi on the Grand Canal (National Gallery of Scotland)5 is a contemporary variant of the present subject, rather laterally condensed to suit the squarer format of its pale buff sheet; the left-hand side is arranged in much the same way but the canal is shown proportionately narrower, with the façades of the palaces on the right receding much more obliquely. Warrell has pointed out that Turner’s younger contemporary William Callow (1812–1908), in Venice independently at this time, made a watercolour of much the same view dated 3 September 1840 (the day Turner left the city after a fortnight) showing ‘the low bulk of a trabaccolo’ sailing coaster moored in the left foreground, ‘also evident, if only summarily’ just beyond the Balbi in the present work.6
See Stainton 1985, p.56.
See also ibid.
See Warrell 2003, p.95 and fig.23.
See ibid., p.161.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.465 no.1372, reproduced.
Warrell 2003, p.95; for the Callow (private collection), see fig.89 (colour).
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.
Warrell 2003, p.96.
As discussed ibid., p.150, and cross-referenced from p.96.
Finberg 1930, p.125.
Stainton 1985, p.56.
See Warrell 1993, p.307, and 1994, p.216.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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