J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Gondola beneath ?the Ponte Ca' di Dio, Venice, with the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and Campanile of San Marco (St Mark's) in the Distance 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Gondola beneath ?the Ponte Ca’ di Dio, Venice, with the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) in the Distance 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 23
Watercolour on white wove paper, 245 x 305 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCXVI 23’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Bridge on the Riva degli Schiavone’): ‘Perhaps meant for the Ponte della Cà di Dio but quite impossible’.1 In 1857 John Ruskin had called the composition ‘Bridge over the Rio dell’ Arsenale’,2 the next side canal east along the quays continuing from the Riva degli Schiavoni. In either case the view would be south-south-west over the Canale di San Marco towards the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and its distinctive church. Instead, turning all but ninety degrees,3 the distant prospect is westwards along the curving waterfront to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), with the campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) rising beyond it in the haze. Aligned above the foreground arch, there seem to be faint indication of the domes of Santa Maria della Salute,4 almost lost in the colour of the surrounding sky.
Assuming the loosely rendered foreground is intended to represent a particular bridge and its setting,5 the building just to the west of the Ponte Ca’ di Dio, now the Ristorante Carpaccio, has a chimney stack projecting from the first floor upwards like the one shown on the right here; compare the detailed drawing of the building in the 1819 Venice to Ancona sketchbook (Tate D14504; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 9). The Ponte dell’Arsenale is a somewhat grander structure, crowned by four stone obelisks, and plainer buildings to either side. Another possibility is the Ponte della Veneta Marina, over the Rio della Tana, as subsequently suggested by Finberg;6 the next bridge to the east again, it is flanked by more varied buildings, including one with a projecting chimney to its west, and another with a dormer window or small penthouse opposite.
As G.S. Sandilands remarked in his brief survey of Turner’s watercolours: ‘The buildings are given character by what seems to be quite a casual scrawl. (Here, it should be noted that it would be unwise to accept as casual any of Turner’s scrawls. People who have visited places years after they were painted by Turner have been able to identify them from some apparently inconsequential brushmark.)’ Meanwhile, and perhaps equally to the point, he called the ‘bridge itself is a dream-structure within a dream’.7 J. Isaacs has described the structures as ‘solidified out of space by a Rembrandt-like scaffolding’,8 using ‘emphatic strokes of a brush charged with black wash’, as Lindsay Stainton noted.9 and Andrew Wilton observed: ‘Despite this perfunctoriness, the whole view has a luminosity that is characteristic of these drawings, making use, as they do to an unparalleled degree, of the whiteness of the paper to achieve an effect of all-pervasive light’.10
Ian Warrell has described the present study as among those likely derived from Canaletto’s panoramic Bacino compositions.11 He has noted Ruskin’s grouping of ‘a series of views along the rambling Riva degli Schiavoni, which suggests that Turner explored its length by foot, as well as from the water’: Tate D32120 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 4) from the contemporary Grand Canal and Giudecca sketchbook, and D32157–D32160 (CCCXVI 20–23) in the present grouping,12 to which Warrell added D32167 and D32168 (CCCXVI 30, 31),13 linked by ‘the brilliant sunshine refracted by the surface of the Bacino’,14 which is of more concern than topographical accuracy. He has noted that Turner ‘took similar liberties’15 with the foreground of his oil painting Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1833 (Tate N00370).16 Such plausible distortions and variations are in the tradition of the landscape capriccio mode, combining real elements in new juxtapositions or with imaginary elements, sometimes employed by Venetian artists such as Canaletto and Guardi.
Ruskin regarded this as a ‘companion’ to D32159 (CCCXVI 22), showing another gondola at what he thought was the same bridge:
... only the gondolier is here entering instead of going out. The gondolier’s head is rubbed out; the painter evidently sketched his figure as standing, and then remembered that he must have stooped to go under the bridge, and, at the short distance of the boat’s stern from it, could not yet have risen. This is part of the expression of swiftness of motion; the boat which has entered at speed is always at least ten feet within the bridge before the gondolier can completely rise.17
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1020; see also Stainton 1985, p.61.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.212; see also p.373 (1881).
See Warrell 1995, p.103.
See Finberg 1930, p.174.
Sandilands 1928, p.6.
Isaacs 1961, p.4.
Stainton 1985, p.61.
Wilton 1977, p.81.
See Warrell 2003, p.47.
Warrell 1995, p.100.
See Warrell 2003, pp.227, 265 note 36.
Ibid., p.227.
Warrell 1995, p.103.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.200–1 no.349, pl.356 (colour).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.212.
Technical notes:
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as on sheets of ‘white paper produced [under the name] Charles Ansell,1 each measuring around 24 x 30 cm, several watermarked with the date “1828”’:2 Tate D32138–D32139, D32141–D32143, D32145–D32147, D32154–D32163, D32167–D32168, D32170–D32177, D35980, D36190 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 1, 2, 4–6, 8–10, 17–26, 30, 31, 33–40, CCCLXIV 137, 332). Warrell has also observed that The Doge’s Palace and Piazzetta, Venice (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)3 and Venice: The New Moon (currently untraced)4 ‘may belong to this group’.5
Albeit Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.81, notes that the Muggeridge family had taken over after 1820, still using the ‘C Ansell’ watermark.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 2) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.463 no.1356, reproduced.
Ibid., p.464 no.1365.
Warrell 2003, p.259.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘59’ top left, and ‘23’ bottom left (latter upside down): stamped in black ‘CCCXVI-23’ over Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom centre; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXVI. 23’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
July 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Gondola beneath ?the Ponte Ca’ di Dio, Venice, with the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) in the Distance 1840 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, July 2018, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-gondola-beneath-the-ponte-ca-di-dio-venice-with-the-r1196995, accessed 20 May 2022.