Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Steps of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with Boats on the Grand Canal


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and pen on paper
Support: 221 × 323 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 5

Catalogue entry

Looking west from near the entrance of the Grand Canal, the imposing Baroque entrance portico of the church of Santa Maria della Salute looms high to the south-west on the left with the rosy apsidal end of the former abbey church of San Gregorio catching the morning light beyond. The low waterfront abbey buildings to its right are now dominated by the Gothic-revival Palazzo Genovese. The canal is laterally compressed here to tighten the composition, so it appears proportionately around half its actual width or less,1 and the palazzo buildings on the right are not clearly differentiated or identifiable, creating rather a general impression of the scene and rapid recession to the right of centre.
The left-hand side, with the treads of the steps reserved as bare paper and architectural features perhaps ‘drawn’ with the point of the brush (although this can be a moot point, and the implement has also been described in this case as a ‘pen dipped in watercolour’2); it was possibly begun on the spot, as the details there are slight but generally accurate, and the light just catching the angle of the Salute’s pediment gives an effect of direct observation. The right-hand side was perhaps developed later to lend pictorial coherence. Writing in 1857, John Ruskin noted this study as ‘interesting as a vigorous memorandum of the dark green reflection of the gondola’,3 another element adding immediacy to the effect.
In passing, Ruskin declared the subject the ‘first idea of the engraved picture of “The Grand Canal”’,4 meaning the oil painting Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 (Metropolitan Museum, New York),5 which had been engraved in 1838 as ‘The Grand Canal, Venice’ (Tate impression T05787) and again after Turner’s lifetime (T06341). Now known to predate the present work, the painting shows the Salute’s porch on the right and, with a gondola moving towards the bottom right corner and its view eastwards to the Bacino, its arrangement is doubly opposed. In 1909 Finberg tentatively relayed Ruskin’s comment,6 but by 1930 he had given this sheet its current date and dismissed any connection,7 as did Evelyn Joll, who identified a pencil drawing in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14444; Turner Bequest CLXXV 67a) as the actual source.8 Tate D32123 (CCCXV 7) is another instance where Ruskin confidently but spuriously linked a watercolour from this 1840 sketchbook to an earlier painting.
See also Stainton 1985, p.54.
Warrell 2003, p.271.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.213.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.212–13 no.362, pl.367 (colour).
See Finberg 1909, II, p.1016.
See Finberg 1930, p.171; see also Stainton 1985, p.54, and Warrell 1995, p.106.
See Joll 1967, p.32, and Butlin and Joll 1984, p.213.
See also Warrell 1995, p.106, and Warrell 2003, p.168 for examples of Salute watercolours.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Gage 1969, p.19.
See ibid., p.226 note 12.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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