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 and watercolour on paper
Support: 194 × 282 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 31

Technique and condition

This composition is on blue wove paper, visible in small patches at the lower edges where it functions as a pale blue. The deeper blue sky was painted with a transparent wash of ultramarine. In the rest of the painting several layers of coloured gouache have been used, followed by thin washes of watercolour. The buildings are painted in white gouache with grey detailing. X-radiography of the sheet indicates that the gouache was made from lead white. Turner was an early user of lead white in gouache, and by the middle of the nineteenth century other artists were also using it regularly. Lead white in scanty amounts of gum water as Turner used it, can easily discolour to a speckled or solid dark brown when it reacts with hydrogen sulphide gas, a common urban pollutant during the nineteenth century. Here, the gouache is in excellent condition.

Helen Evans
August 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

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 imposing entrance arch 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 a similar feature at the centre, is only generic. Nevertheless, it was exhibited and published in line with Bell’s note2 until being correctly identified by Ian Warrell in 2003.3
In fact, the view is north-west along the Rio di San Luca, towards its entrance into the Grand Canal west of the Rialto Bridge. 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 The imposing central block is the back of the Palazzo Grimani, with the elaborate entrance to its small courtyard beside the canal. The pilastered west end of the church of San Luca is shown towards the right, although the bridge aligned just to the right (south) of its central door is not hinted at. It appears as a simple stone or rendered arch (it is now a steel structure known as the Ponte del Teatro) spanning the middle distance in a variant colour study on grey paper (D32215; CCCXVII 30), which has a detailed pencil drawing of much the same scene, albeit without the bridge, on its verso (D40159). See under D32215 for other views of the palace.
Considerable further differences in detail and alignment suggest that the two sides of the other sheet may be independent, but see the discussion under D32215 in terms of their possible interrelationship, perhaps mediated by work on the present study (D32216; CCCXVII 31).5 The left-hand part of this work appears quite congruent with the corresponding half of the pencil view, which does not show the bridge either.6 Towards the right aspects diverge: the palace is broader here, the small building to the right of the arch much reduced in prominence, and the façade of the church itself show as if in elevation, rather than receding along the canal.
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.
See ibid., p.156.
Ibid., pp.156, 158, and Taft 2004, p.208.
See Wilton 1975, p.136.
Warrell 2003, p.156.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.384.
See ibid., footnote 1.
Wilton 1988, p.9.
See Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821–1906), exhibition catalogue, Chris Beetles, London 1989, reproduced in colour p.[21], p.[46] no.30, as ‘Palazzo Reconico’ (sic, from Brabazon’s inscription, likely indicating ‘Rezzonico’); and Art and Sunshine: The Work of Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, NEAC, 1821–1906, exhibition catalogue, Chris Beetles, London 1997, reproduced in colour p.68, p.144 no.104, as ‘Palazzo Reconico’.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ in Warrell 2003, pp.258–9.
Ibid., pp.156, 158.
Joanna Selborne in Selborne, Andrew Wilton and Cecilia Powell, Paths to Fame: Turner Watercolours from The Courtauld Collection, exhibition catalogue, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere 2008, p.96; see also Anne Hodge in Hodge and Niamh Mac Nally, The Works of J.M.W. Turner at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin 2012, p.94 note 2.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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