The view is east-south-east from the south side of the Grand Canal, off the Dogana, with its porch dominant in the right foreground. Beyond, its scale and closeness exaggerated, is the familiar entrance front of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of the same name across the Bacino.
In reviewing the 1977 edition of Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll’s catalogue of Turner’s oils, Jerrold Ziff first compared this loose watercolour with the highly finished Venice, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC),1 calling them ‘nearly identical’ and wondering whether this might be a study for it, stemming from Turner’s 1833 visit to the city, rather than 1840, the date with which most of Turner’s Venetian watercolours have come to be associated.2 Butlin and Joll subsequently noted and expanded on Ziff’s observation: ‘Not only is the viewpoint similar in both watercolour and picture, but details like the curve of the sail in the boat on the left are repeated so faithfully in the oil that the connection between the two seems certain. It was perhaps on seeing this watercolour that [Henry] McConnell commissioned [Venice].’3
Which came first is a moot point, as there are enough differences in composition, proportion and details to make it clear that one was by no means a precise transcription of the other. Ian Warrell has acknowledged two alternatives: that the painting may have evolved from this study;4 or that the present work, Tate D32208 and D32209 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 23, 24, also in this subsection) ‘could be interpreted as instances of Turner revisiting a subject he had already treated’ in pre-1840 paintings.5 Compare also Tate D32205 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 20), which echoes a painting exhibited just before the 1833 stay.
As well as producing many original watercolour views of Venice, the widely travelled watercolourist Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821–1906) was in the habit of making sympathetic if often rather loose transcriptions from earlier artists he admired. He copied several examples from Turner’s 1840 visit in the Bequest, including this one;6 see also under Tate D32126, D32154, D32156, D32209, D32216 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 10, CCCXVI 17, 19, CCCXVII 24, 31).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.205–6 no.356, pl.362 (colour).
See Ziff 1980, p.170.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.206.
See Warrell 2003, p.107.
See Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821–1906), exhibition catalogue, Chris Beetles, London 1989, reproduced in colour p., p. no.8, as ‘The Dogana, Venice’.
See 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, pp.105–7 under no.59.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ in Warrell 2003, p.258; the six works are individually dated ‘1833 or 1840’ elsewhere in the book; see also pp.21, 90.
See ibid., p.259, section 8.
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