Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Balbi in the Distance and the Campanile of the Frari Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 222 × 320 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 18

Catalogue entry

Finberg later annotated his 1909 Inventory entry (‘“Church of S. Rocco” from the Rio di Cà “Foscari.”’): ‘No. The Grand Canal & tower of the Frari, from near Ca Mocenigo. CFB’.1 The initials are those of the Turner scholar C.F. Bell, indicating that Finberg was noting his comments; Bell himself made a similar annotation in another copy, albeit ending ‘Palazzo Mocenigo’.2 The setting is the south-western bend of the Grand Canal, looking north along a short, straight reach before the bend to the right towards the Rialto; compare a pencil sketch in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31917; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 64a). See also Tate D32088–D32089 (Turner Bequest CCCXIV 86, 86a), more detailed views in the 1833 Venice sketchbook.
Turner was positioned off the Palazzi Contarini degli Scrigni e Corfù, lightly indicated in the left foreground; the adjoining Palazzo Mocenigo Gambara, mentioned in Finberg and Bell’s notes, is out of sight behind this point. Beyond the Rio di San Trovaso the palaces receding up the west side include the low Casa Mainella, the taller Palazzo Loredan dell’Ambasciatore, other lower ones before the prominent Ca’ Rezzonico, and more before the Ca’ Foscari, at the centre overlooking the bend, perhaps in momentary shadow from a cloud.
To the right of the Foscari is the sunlit façade of the Palazzo Balbi, lacking its twin obelisks, with the smaller Palazzo Caotorta-Angaran to the right. The campanile of the Frari church, looming over the Balbi, is roughly the same distance again further on. Returning along the east side on the right, the largest block is the Palazzo Grassi, opposite the Ca’ Rezzonico; its near end is illuminated by sunlight in the Campo San Samuele, with the Palazzo Malipiero completing the prospect on the right.
The effect is of morning light from the right below a fluidly rendered sky, giving a sense of direct experience, albeit Andrew Wilton has described the study as among those in this sketchbook ‘which seem to have been made with the intention of recording architecture rather than conveying atmosphere’, including Tate D32123 and D32131 (CCCXV 7, 15).3 The latter employs as similar viewpoint to look eastwards past the Accademia towards Santa Maria della Salute.4 John Gage observed that among the various modes employed in this book, D32134–D32137 (CCCXV 18–21) ‘are in a muted range of greens and browns which seem to come from a direct experience of the subject’, whereas D32127–D32130 (CCCXV 11–14) ‘have a far more complex technique and brilliant colouring; which suggests that perhaps both modes were used interchangeably for indoor work.’5 This is symptomatic of the general issue of Turner’s direct use of colour outdoors, generally a moot point in his Venice work as it is for many other subjects, however immediate their effect.6
Undated MS note by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, opposite p.1017.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1017.
Wilton 1975, p.148.
See Warrell 2003, p.161.
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.
Wilton 1975, p.148.
Warrell 2003, p.161.
Ibid., pp.161, 264 note 20.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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