Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venice by Moonlight, with a Gondola


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Support: 215 × 288 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 3

Catalogue entry

The setting of this swiftly rendered but evocative moonlit scene, with much of the mid-toned paper left bare, is uncertain, assuming it is meant to represent a particular aspect of Venice from the Lagoon or closer in. The rudimentary blue silhouette of a distant campanile acts as a foil to the thick white gouache indicating the moon within a pale zone of the sky. The moonlight is complemented by a bright point of light in a lantern carried on the boat traversing the scene, a juxtaposition going right back to Turner’s first exhibited oil painting, Fishermen at Sea of 1796 (Tate T01585).1
The characteristic leaning action of the gondolier is caught in a few liquid strokes; see under Tate D32174 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 37), a Grand Canal view, for other examples and discussion. Compare also the mood and arrangement of two colour studies on white paper in the contemporary Grand Canal and Giudecca sketchbook (D32125–D32126; CCCXV 9, 10).
Ian Warrell has noted the possible confusion between this sheet and other Venice subjects in relation to the early Loan Collections from the Turner Bequest and corresponding entries in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory. He has suggested that the supposed Turner Bequest CCCXVII 3, ‘The Ducal Palace’, listed there as no.98 in the second selection2 but noted as missing since the 1930s, may be a duplication of Tate D32247 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 28) or D32246 (CCCXVIII 27), called ‘Moonlight’ by Finberg and listed by him as no.103 in the First Loan Collection (earlier National Gallery listings quoted by Warrell giving it as ‘Moonlight, Venice (Colour, on brown)’);3 confusingly, Finberg also gave the same exhibition history to the present work, which he called ‘Moonlight; Venice’.4 In 1930, he , listed ‘cccxviii. 3’ as ‘Moonlight scene’.5
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.1–2 no.1, pl.1 (colour).
Finberg 1909, II, p.1022.
See Warrell 1991, pp.41, 45, 47–8; see also Warrell 2003, p.264 note 8.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1026.
Finberg 1930, p.175.
Technical notes:
There is a little dark spotting, particularly at the bottom left. The paper has acquired a darker, warmer appearance through light exposure during prolonged early display, affecting the tonal balance; paler grey strips are evident around the edges, which were protected by a mount.1
See also Bower 1999, p.111.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 12) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also Bower 1999, pp.111–12.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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