Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Rio di San Luca, Venice, off the Grand Canal between the Palazzi Grimani and Corner Contarini dei Cavalli, with the Church of San Luca Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 191 × 281 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 29

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Cross-Canal, near the Arsenal’), crossing out the last three words and noting ‘Façade of a church with a Palladian front ? S. Lio’,1 albeit San Lio, east of the Rialto, is not visible along a canal in this way. Finberg’s title followed that applied when the sheet was exhibited in nineteenth century, and stood until Ian Warrell identified the true subject.2 The view is south-east down the Rio di San Luca from near its entrance on the Grand Canal. Compare the prospect in this direction from the north side of the latter in a watercolour study in the contemporary Grand Canal and Giudecca sketchbook (Tate D32123; Turner Bequest CCCXV 7), centred on the entrance to this narrow side canal, with the Palazzo Grimani on the left and the Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli on the right. Lightly outlined beyond the Grimani is the pedimented west front of the church of San Luca, above the Ponte del Teatro (since replaced by an iron bridge).
Andrew Wilton had noted that the view was also recorded in a slight pencil sketch in the 1840 Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31903; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 57a), presenting the correlation as evidence that ‘the series of grey-paper studies of Venetian and other continental subjects were all done on this journey or soon after.’3 Lindsay Stainton concurred on these points, observing that the present work is ‘comparatively highly finished, suggesting that Turner did not paint it on the spot, but developed it from the pencil sketch either in the evening at his hotel or shortly after his return to England’.4 However, the architectural elements in the foreground, rapidly rendered but accurate as far as they go, are far more detailed than the Venice and Botzen drawing, likely indicating that the initial pencil work was done on the spot, if not the colouring.
Michael Bockemühl has noted the ‘highly subtle interplay of light and shade, one in which light, its reflection, and the image thrown back by the water complement each other in a variety of ways – indeed, it is only through this mutual act that they become distinguishable at all’.5 Here, as Inge Herold has observed: ‘Turner frees himself from the distant vistas of water and architecture and plunges into the narrow world of the canals. .... Through the dominance of grey and blue tones, which are offset solely by a little yellow and reddish brown, Turner captures the damp, cool atmosphere which filters through the narrow waterways once the sunlight has gone.’6
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1025.
See Warrell 2003, pp.158, 272.
Wilton 1975, p.135; see also Warrell 2003, pp.158, 264 note 16.
See Stainton 1985, p.52
Bockemühl 1993, p.61.
Herold 1997, p.109.
Powell 1995, p.166.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.384.
See ibid., footnote 1.
Warrell 2003, p.272.
Ibid., p.158.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 8) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.464 no.1367, reproduced.
Not in ibid.; Warrell 2003, fig.233 (colour).
Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.423 no.1037, reproduced.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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