The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘An Interior, with plate (?), &c.’): ‘Wine-shop with barrels & bottles’.1 This reading has become the accepted one,2 and although there seems nothing uniquely Venetian in the setting, the handling and strong chiaroscuro are facilitated by the brown paper also used for identifiable 1840 Venice views in a similar mode (see the technical notes below). A bold sweep of dark wash suggests a shadowy vault which is brought into clearer definition by white touches towards the right, while stark white highlights to the edges of what may be bottles and barrels evoke strong light flooding through a doorway or window at the left.
The largest disk, likely the end of a barrel, appears articulated with what may be a heraldic design, while the one to its right may bear an inscription; alternatively, as Finberg implied, the glitter of embossed silverware may be intended. The dark form at the lower left and looser shapes towards the right may be figures, like those barely more articulated on other sheets in this subsection of interiors, where overarching forms on various scales are often employed. Compare also what may be the inside of a Venetian workshop (Tate D32223; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 4). Turner’s occasional interest in still life elements catching the light in dim interiors can be traced as far back as a 1796 Royal Academy exhibit, the watercolour of An Old Woman in a Cottage Kitchen (‘Internal of a Cottage, a Study at Ely’) (Tate D00729; Turner Bequest XXIX X).3
Lindsay Stainton has described the ‘extraordinary freedom of handling and economy of means’4 here, and Evelyn Joll has remarked upon the subject’s ‘immediacy’,5 while Nicola Moorby has noted that Turner’s handling of such subjects has been compared to the ‘painterly oil surfaces of later artists such as Walter Richard Sickert’6 (1860–1942); see the Introduction to this subsection.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1027.
See Mayne and Woodward 1962, p.41, and subsequent sources.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.315 no.141, pl.25.
Stainton 1985, p.48.
Joll 1992, p.7.
Moorby 2014, pp.109, 111.
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Red-brown paper made at Cartieri Pietro Milani Mill, Fabriano, with a watermark showing the letter “M” accompanied by laurel leaves:1 Tate D32224, D32227, D32230, D32238–D32241, D32245–D32246, D32248, D32251, D32254 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5, 8, 11, 19–22, 26, 27, 29, CCCXIX 3, 6). As Warrell has observed; the support ‘seems to be quite absorbent, so that the colours penetrate through to the back of the sheet’.2
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 9) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also see also Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.111 under no.64; and Warrell 2003, p.259, sections 10 and 11, for other likely Italian (possibly Fabriano) brown papers.
Ibid., section 9.