Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venice: Looking East towards San Pietro di Castello - Early Morning


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 223 × 287 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 5

Display caption

Although Byron was based in or near Venice when Turner first visited the city in 1819, there is no evidence that they met. Turner's watercolours nevertheless provide a splendid counterpoint to Byron's poetic impressions, observing the city from near and afar, by day and night, and in an infinite variety of moods. This sparkling view of Venice from the lagoon seems to echo Byron's own introduction to the city in the third canto of 'Childe Harold': 'She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from oceans,/ Rising with her tiara of proud towers'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

The subject of this evocative but at first sight somewhat generic evocation of the distant skyline of Venice has been a cause of speculation as to its topography (and consequently which end of the day might be represented) until its subject and thus its orientation were firmly established relatively recently.1 Finberg annotated his laconic 1909 Inventory title ‘Venice’ with ‘Lagoon’.2 In another copy he noted: ‘Salute in distance’.3 The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated another copy: ‘from the Giudecca looking east, sunrise’.4 Bell similarly annotated Finberg’s In Venice with Turner (1930): ‘From the Giudecca, looking East, sunrise? I cannot feel at all sure abt the locality of this subject’.5 Finberg later mused:
I am not quite sure of the subject ... but I think it is a view from the Fusina end of the Giudecca looking towards the basin of St. Mark. It is an evening effect with masses of pale grey clouds rising from the horizon, the loose clouds in the upper part of the sky catching the ruddy glow of the sun which is setting behind us on our right.6
In the most sustained speculative account, Lindsay Stainton called the view ‘puzzling’, declaring that there is ‘no point either within the area of Venice itself (such as the entrance to the Canale della Giudecca) or out on the Lagoon from which such a view can be seen’, suggesting that the spire on the left might be intended to evoke the campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s), with the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront stretching east towards the Giardini Pubblici, albeit with many elisions or omissions, concluding that the this might be ‘an “ideal” view of the famous waterfront reconstructed from memory’ despite its apparent immediacy.7
Ian Warrell has since convincingly linked the skyline of the left-hand half of the view to a double-page pencil drawing in the smaller contemporary Venice to Ancona sketchbook (Tate D14526–D14527; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 20a–21),8 the first being inscribed with notes of colours and tones including ‘all the steeples blood red’. Warrell has observed ‘how Turner played with the positioning of bell towers and domes to produce a greater sense of recession’, while ‘the presence of rosy clouds perhaps indicates a moment just before sunrise’, which ‘could be a directly observed phenomenon’, albeit bearing in mind the annotations to the pencil sketch.9 He has suggested the ‘real or imagined vantage point’ as the Palazzo (or Ca’) Giustinian, on the north side of the entrance to the Grand Canal,10 apparently the viewpoint for the early morning views originally on adjacent pages of this sketchbook (D15254, D15256; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4, 6), although the pencil sketch may have been made from a little way out on the waters around the Dogana. It is perhaps significant that there are moored boats and a passing gondola at the equivalent point in the pencil sketch to the slight but assured indications of boats and a landing stage in the foreground here.
Earlier discussions and suggestions include Wilton 1983, p.218, Gage 1987, p.[51], Perkins 1990, p.36, and Wilcox 1990, p.33.
Undated MS note by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by Finberg in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by Bell (before 1936) in copy of Finberg 1930, Prints and Drawings Study Room, British Museum, London, p.167, as transcribed by Ian Warrell (undated notes, Tate catalogue files).
Finberg 1930, pp.22–3.
Stainton 1985, p.43.
See Warrell 2003, p.88 and figs.76 and 77.
Ibid., p.88.
See ibid.
See Ian Warrell, undated notes, Tate catalogue files.
Including comments fromClark and others 1959, p.264, Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p.35, Gowing 1966, p.16, Butlin 1968, p.[5], Herrmann 1975, p.231, Wilton 1977, p.30, Wilton 1979, p.142, Gaunt and Hamlyn 1981, p.[58], Wilton 1982, p.40, Powell 1984, p.43, Stainton 1985, pp.14, 16, Gage 1987, p.49, Powell 1987, p.16, Perkins 1990, p.36, Wilcox 1990, p.33, Brown 1992, p.125, Jan Morris and Ian Warrell in Warrell 2003, pp.12 and 16 respectively, and Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 1.
Butlin 1968, p.[3].
Wilton 1977, p.30.
Stainton 1985, p.42, quoting contemporary lines of Shelley’s poetry; compare Brown 1992, p.125, quoting Byron.
Perkins 1990, p.36.
Wilcox 1990, p.33.
Bockemühl 1993, pp.33–4.
Ibid., p.61.
Angela Madesani, Hiroyuki Masuyama: After J.M.W. Turner – Turner’s Journey from London to Venice/After J.M.W. Turner – Il viaggio di Turner da Londra a Venezia, exhibition catalogue, Studio la Città, Verona 2008, reproduced in colour p.30, as ‘Looking East from the Giudecca, Sunrise, 1819’, 2008.
Undated note, Tate catalogue files.
Transcribed from an unspecified MS source, ibid.,

Matthew Imms
March 2017

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