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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, at Sunset, from along the Riva degli Schiavoni 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, at Sunset, from along the Riva degli Schiavoni 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXVI 24
Watercolour on white wove paper, 244 x 306 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCXVI 24’ 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 (‘San Giorgio Maggiore’): ‘from the Dogana but wildly fantastic’.1 Although by 1881 he listed it as ‘San Giorgio’,2 in 1857 John Ruskin had called it ‘The Cemetery and Church of St. Michele de Murano’,3 on the Lagoon to the north of Venice, which Turner is not known to have visited. Idiosyncratically, he characterised the scene as in ‘a full flushed second twilight. Exquisitely beautiful for tender colour and atmosphere.’ This followed on from his discussion of Tate D32159 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 22), by ‘the first twilight ... which immediately precedes the sunset’, whereas the ‘“second” twilight, a peculiar flush, like a faint reflection of the sunset, ... succeeds the first twilight, after some minutes’.4
Once recognised, the well-known subject is clear; the church is apparently seen to the south-south-west, from ‘a little to the east of the Pietà church’ as Ian Warrell has noted,5 and possibly from as far east along the Riva degli Schiavoni and the quays continuing from it as the Rio Ca’ di Dio (see under Tate D32160; CCCXVI 23, in the present grouping), looking across the Canale di San Marco with the Isola della Giudecca indicated beyond, across the Bacino on the horizon to the right. Compare pencil studies featuring San Giorgio’s northern elevation in the contemporary Rotterdam to Venice sketchbook (Tate D32428, D32431; Turner Bequest CCCXX 84a, 86). Warrell describes a ‘vertical accent of a lighter colour slightly further to the left’ as ‘intended to represent one of the island’s lighthouses’.6
Warrell has quoted the memoirs of the much younger watercolourist William Callow (1812–1908): ‘whilst I was enjoying a cigar in a gondola I saw Turner in another one sketching San Giorgio, brilliantly lit up by the setting sun. I felt quite ashamed of myself idling away my time whilst he was hard at work so late.’7 However, he reasonably suggested that ‘the sketches Callow witnessed him making are more likely to have been a sequence of pencil jottings in the ‘Venice and Bozen’ sketchbook, many of which include a circular outline denoting the sun’ (Tate D31822, D31833–D31834, D31839, D31846, D31852, D31872; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 16a, 22, 22a, 25a, 29, 32, 41a)’,8 while here ‘it is most probable that Turner later recorded a strong impression, once he had returned to his hotel room’.9
Indeed, Lindsay Stainton described the present subject as ‘S. Giorgio Maggiore at sunset from the Hotel Europa’,10 but compare the more detailed, similarly strongly coloured study of its Bacino entrance front (D32165; CCCXVI 28)11 in the parallel grouping of views from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian), and a more finished variation, San Giorgio Maggiore at Sunset (private collection),12 in the ‘fading light at the end of the day ... when the bricks acquire a pink radiance, like the inside of a conch shell’, as Warrell has put it.13 He has described the technical similarities between the present sheet and D32165, particularly in the lifting of colour to suggest elongated reflections, ‘suggesting that all three works come from the same painting session.’14 Compare also the colour and effect of the contemporary watercolour The New Moon (currently untraced),15 which may be on similar paper (see the technical notes below),showing the Dogana across the Grand Canal from the Europa below a similarly ghostly waxing crescent. During Turner’s 20 August–3 September 1840 stay in Venice this phase coincided with the second week, between the new moon on 27 August and its first quarter on the day he left.16
Andrew Wilton describe this as a ‘ravishing example of Turner’s ability to generalize and intensify the emotional significance of a specific view: we are conscious here of a stripping away of detail in the interest of vivid poetic effect. Colors of great richness are combined inventively in a very simple scheme of blocks of mauve, green, yellow and blue around the central strip of salmon-orange.’17 As Warrell has observed, another loose study, San Giorgio Maggiore at Sunset (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin),18 distinguished by its flaring orange sky, makes ‘only the most cursory reference’ to the church ‘as a motif, and was surely undertaken as a recollection’.19
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1020.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.373; see also ibid., p.212 footnote 2.
Ibid., p.212; see also Warrell 1995, p.104, and Warrell 2003, p.199.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.212 and asterisk footnote.
Warrell 2003, p.204.
Ibid., p.204.
Quoted ibid., p.197, from H.M. Cundall ed., William Callow: An Autobiography, London 1908, pp.66–7; see also Warrell 1995, p.105.
Warrell 2003, pp.197, 264 note 6.
Warrell 1995, p.105; see also Taft 2004, p.226.
Stainton 1985, p.62; see Warrell 2003, p.204, refuting this point.
See Lyles 1992, p.82.
Not in Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979; Warrell 2003, fig.216 (colour); see also Taft 2004, p.226.
Warrell 2003, p.197; see also p.199.
Ibid., p.204.
Wilton 1979, p.464 no.1365; Warrell 2003, fig.223 (colour).
See ‘Moon Phases for Venice, Italy’, timeanddate.com, accessed 6 September 2018, https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/italy/venice?year=1840.
Wilton 1977, p.80; see also Stainton 1985, p.62.
Wilton 1979, p.463 no.1357, reproduced.
Warrell 2003, p.199; see also Stainton 1985, p.76.
Technical notes:
The crescent moon was reserved within the broad washes of the sky; its reflection was scratched out. Parts of the pink initial colour of the church were washed out with downward strokes, fading out into long reflections (see also the main discussion above).
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 The New Moon (discussed above; 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.
Wilton 1979, p.463 no.1356, reproduced.
Ibid., p.464 no.1365.
Warrell 2003, p.259.
Blank, save for a spot of blue colour at the top left; inscribed in pencil ‘60’ top left, and ‘25’ bottom left, upside down; stamped in black ‘CCCXVII – 24’ over Turner Bequest monogram bottom centre; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXVI.24’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
July 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, at Sunset, from along the Riva degli Schiavoni 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-san-giorgio-maggiore-venice-at-sunset-from-along-the-riva-r1196996, accessed 24 October 2020.