Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Rio di San Luca, Venice, with the Church of San Luca and the Back of the Palazzo Grimani


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 194 × 279 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 30

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘On the Cross-Canal, between Bridge of Sighs and Rialto’): ‘Ponte Della Guerra and Palazzo Tasca-Papafava &c’.1 These stand on the winding Rio de San Zulian south-east of the Rialto, with an archway flanked by Ionic columns off the short quay north of the bridge, now leading to Instituto San Giuseppe, although the resemblance to Turner’s composition, with its similar feature at the centre, is only passing. Nevertheless, the watercolour was exhibited and published in line with Bell’s note2 until being correctly identified by Ian Warrell in 2003.3
In fact, at the composition’s core is a view is north-west along the Rio di San Luca, towards its entrance into the Grand Canal west of the Rialto Bridge. The imposing central block is the back of the Palazzo Grimani, with the elaborate entrance to its small courtyard beyond the bridge. The pilastered west end of the church of San Luca is towards the right, with a simple stone or rendered bridge leads to its door where the steel Ponte del Teatro crosses today. The towering Grand Canal front of the Grimani is shown in numerous works, including three colour studies in the present grouping (Tate D32169, D32211–D32212; Turner Bequest CCCXVI 32, CCCXVII 26, 27). The last of these is on similar grey paper, as is a view along to the church from the far end of the Rio di San Luca (D32214; CCCXVII 29), with the palace rising cliff-like on the left.
Turner had first recorded the view along the narrow canal in pencil in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14486; Turner Bequest CLXXV 89a),4 when he was staying nearby. There is a more detailed pencil drawing on the back of the present sheet (D40159), which shows a view slightly further forward than this one, omitting the bridge, as does a variant colour study on blue paper (D32216; CCCXVII 31). Lindsay Stainton observed that the ‘more deliberately topographical character and more elaborately coloured’ treatment here and in D32216 ‘may suggest they were worked up at a later stage from slighter sketches’,5 while Timothy Wilcox felt that this work gives a ‘powerful sense of the artist’s mobility in the city’.6
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1025.
Including Stainton 1985, pp.52–3.
See Warrell 2003, pp.156, 158–9, 272.
See ibid., p.156.
Stainton 1985, p.53.
Wilcox 1990, p.35.
See also Warrell 2003, p.158.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.383 no.725, pl.160.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.152 no.245, pl.248.
Warrell 2003, p.156.
Ibid., p.158.
Ibid., pp.156, 158; see also Taft 2004, p.208.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.384.
See ibid., footnote 1.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 8) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Wilton 1979, p.464 no.1367, reproduced.
Not in ibid.; Warrell 2003, fig.233 (colour).
Warrell 2003, p.259.
Wilton 1979, p.423 no.1037, reproduced.

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