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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Study of the Piazza San Marco, Venice, ?for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Study of the Piazza San Marco, Venice, ?for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 2
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 130 x 193 mm on off-white machine-made cartridge paper, 205 x 240 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(2’ bottom right
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘ “Venice, not engd” Oxford 96a – 127.’ and ‘217’ and ‘Box 99’ bottom right. There are also ruled pencil lines framing all four sides of vignette
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 2’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This unfinished study appears to be an experimental sketch for the vignette that Turner produced to illustrate the section ‘Venice’ in Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193). Whereas the finished composition shows a conventional view of the Grand Canal and the Riva degli Schiavoni, this study presents a carnival scene in the Piazza San Marco. The foreground is filled with promenaders, some of whom are gathered around a bright yellow canopy where a puppet show is taking place. The composition clearly echoes that of Canaletto’s Piazza San Marco with the Basilica of 1730 (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA). Although Turner did not make use of this study for the final version of Venice, Ian Warrell has suggested it may well have served as a model for his later canvas Juliet and her Nurse, exhibited in 1836 (Sra Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, Argentina).1
The evolution of Venice is not the only example from the Italy series of a preliminary composition being abandoned for a highly conventional view of a well-known Italian subject. A similar shift can be observed in the preparatory and final designs that Turner produced for Florence (see Tate D27612; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 95 and Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156). It is very likely that Rogers’s tastes were at least partly responsible for the preponderance of traditional compositions in Turner’s Italy vignettes. Rogers’s biographer, P.W. Clayden, says of the illustrations: ‘Everything was done under Rogers’s own constant direction and supervision. He chose the subjects, suggested the character of the pictures, superintended their execution, and made the illustrations almost as much his own as the letter-press they adorned.’2 The two men appear to have had a good working relationship throughout the production of Italy and they may have agreed that the conventional Italian views such as those shown in Venice, Florence, and Rome, Castel San Angelo (Tate D27677; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160) were best suited to the overall tone and aesthetic of Rogers’s verses.3
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.365; Warrell 2003, p.79.
P.W. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, vol.II, London 1889, p.3.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.4.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is made on off-white low-grade machine-made cartridge paper. The maker is unknown and there is no watermark. This paper would have been relatively cheap to buy and could have been purchased from a colourman, cut off from a roll to the desired size. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the paper which has slightly more texture than the ‘wire’ side, allowing better adhesion of pigment and graphite to the surface of the sheet. Many of Turner’s vignette studies were made on a similar grade of machine-made paper, and the artist employed the ‘felt’ side on all of them.1
Bower 1999, p.59.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘D27519’ and ‘CCLXXX No 2’ bottom centre and ‘Box 99’ and ‘Nos 1–25’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Study of the Piazza San Marco, Venice, ?for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-study-of-the-piazza-san-marco-venice-for-rogerss-italy-r1133306, accessed 30 May 2024.