Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venice by Moonlight, with Boats off a Campanile


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 220 × 319 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXV 10

Catalogue entry

Writing in 1857, John Ruskin described this watercolour, which he called simply ‘Moonrise’: ‘A highly-finished study, but the locality is here also uncertain [see his comments on Tate D32125; Turner Bequest CCCXV 9]. There are so many campaniles in Venice of the class to which this tower belongs, that it is almost impossible to identify one of them under Turner’s conditions of mystery, especially as he alters the proportions indefinitely, and makes the towers tall or short just as it happens to suit the sky.’1 By the early twentieth century it had come to be catalogued as ‘Venice: Suburb’,2 and the art historian J.E. Phythian then included this work among other Venetian studies he called ‘brilliant in light and colour’ and ‘impressionistic’ in the broadest sense, rhapsodizing at the ‘faintly gleaming light of the rising moon, and the fading sunlight, and the darkness beginning to steal over the waters!’3
In 1930, Finberg suggested that the scene perhaps encompassed ‘the church and Tower of S. Zaccaria, with S. Giorgio and the Zitelle in the distance on the left’,4 meaning that the viewpoint would be off the Riva degli Schiavoni, looking south-westwards across the Canale di San Marco and Bacino to the domed churches on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and the Isola della Giudecca beyond. Andrew Wilton followed Finberg’s suggestion, specifying ‘the Zitelle, with perhaps the Salute on the right’, in ‘[o]ne of the most poetic of the Venetian watercolours’.5 Lindsay Stainton agreed in this assessment, while pointing out that if the topography were as suggested, ‘the view would thus be to the west ... If this is so, Turner must surely be showing the moon setting in the early morning, rather than the moonrise.’6
As Ruskin had, Ian Warrell linked this study with another from this sketchbook (D32125; CCCXV 9), perhaps showing the same elusive buildings.7 He noted the previous topographical suggestions and Stainton’s comment as to the position of the moon; however: ‘Even allowing for the kinds of distortion noted by Ruskin, none of the other architectural features really supports this identification.’8 He subsequently developed a new idea linking the two studies to two more securely identifiable views apparently including the supressed convent of Santi Biagio e Cataldo, overlooking the south side of the Canale della Giudecca from the then somewhat remote western end of the island from which it takes its name (D32128–D32129; CCCXV 12, 13).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.214.
Ibid., footnote 3, and p.611; see also Finberg 1909, II, p.1017’ as ‘Venice suburb; moonlight’.
Phythian 1910, p.104.
Finberg 1930, p.171.
Wilton 1975, p.138.
Stainton 1985, p.55; see also Lyles 1992, p.83.
See Warrell 1995, p.110, and Warrell 2003, p.188.
Warrell 1995, p.111.
See Warrell 2003, p.188; see also Taft 2004, p.94.
See Jeff Cotton, ‘Santa Marta’, The Churches of Venice, accessed 20 July 2018,
Warrell 2003, p.188.
Ibid., p.188.
Ibid., p.264 note 29.
See Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821–1906), exhibition catalogue, Chris Beetles, London 1989, reproduced in colour p.[14], p.[45] no.5, as ‘Venice, Moonrise’.
See Warrell 1995, p.98.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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