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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Canale della Giudecca, Venice, with Santa Maria della Salute and Other Churches to the East, from near the Convent of Santi Biagio e Cataldo 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Canale della Giudecca, Venice, with Santa Maria della Salute and Other Churches to the East, from near the Convent of Santi Biagio e Cataldo 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXV 12
Watercolour on white wove paper, 221 x 322 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCCXV – 12’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The view is eastwards from the south side of the broad Canale della Giudecca, off what Ian Warrell has identified as ‘the shell of the deconsecrated church of Santi Biagio e Cataldo’ in the right foreground; Tate D32129 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 13), a view to the west in this sketchbook, shows the same building on the left.1 Before the development of the Sacca Fisola island across the Canale dei Lauranesi, what is now the east bank of the canal was the waterfront at the blunt western end of the Isola della Giudecca, with the open waters of the Lagoon beyond.2 The Fondamenta San Biagio runs around the north-western tip of the Giudecca, and the first canal traversing it is the Rio di San Biagio; old maps show the convent of Santi Biagio e Cataldo on the west side of the latter, looking north over the main channel, and it is shown in engravings and paintings with the shallow pitched roof of its plain church beside the quay. It had been supressed in 1810, becoming much depleted before its demolition around 18823 to make way for the substantial Molino Stucky mill and factory complex4 (now a hotel).
The church is noted as ‘St Biagio’ on a page of Giudecca sketches in the 1840 Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31823; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 17), and there is what seems to be a two-part panorama of a similar view, including the building in the right foreground, in the same book (D31854; CCCXIII 33). Compare also one of the buildings on a page of fragmentary waterfront studies in the Venice; Passau to Würzburg sketchbook (Tate D31292; Turner Bequest CCCX 8a).
Discussing the painting Venice – Sunset, a Fisher, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845 (Tate N00542),5 which may show elements of a similar view, Warrell suggested that it was ‘entirely possible that he was playing with motifs recorded in his sketchbooks and reassembling them in arrangements that suited his own fancy’, noting a ‘similar divergence between Turner’s informal graphic work and its public expression’6 here. The topography seems fluid, with what appear to be the campanile of San Marco and the two unequal domes of Santa Maria della Salute either side of the nearer tower on the left, the slim campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore at the centre, and the domes of the Zitelle and the Redentore along the Giudecca on the right. However, from the notional viewpoint off the lost convent, the Salute is hidden by the Gesuati church, with its less monumental dome and long nave flanked by twin campanili. The background may be informed by a similarly atmospheric view in this sketchbook (D32127; CCCXV 11), taken from further east, south of the Gesuati, where the Salute seems to be in relatively accurate juxtaposition with the other churches, albeit the panorama is greatly compressed. Warrell has linked the two colour studies including the convent with two others in this book, perhaps showing the waterfront around Santa Marta (D32125–D32126; CCCXV 9, 10), on the north side of this then relatively quiet western end of the Giudecca canal, since much developed with consequent complications in identifying the settings.7
John Gage observed that among the various modes employed in this sketchbook, D32134–D32137 (CCCXV 18–21) ‘are in a muted range of greens and browns which seem to come from a direct experience of the subject’, whereas D32127–D32130 (CCCXV 11–14) ‘have a far more complex technique and brilliant colouring; which suggests that perhaps both modes were used interchangeably for indoor work.’8 This is symptomatic of the general issue of Turner’s direct use of colour outdoors, generally a moot point in his Venice work as it is for many other subjects, however immediate their effect.9 Andrew Wilton considered the present work ‘very similar in mood and treatment’ to D33120, D32127 and D32129 (CCCXV 4, 11, 13).10
Of these, as noted above, D32127 is a variant from further east; Lindsay Stainton described it and the present study as ‘two of the most beautiful ... irradiated with colour and reflected light’ in which forms ‘dissolve into a shimmering, opalescent mist’, along with Tate D32156 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 19), on a separate contemporary sheet, looking northwards across the Bacino from off San Giorgio Maggiore.11 The latter also features figures in the foreground and a sail on the left, as here, suggesting a certain compositional interchangeability to such elements. Noting the fishermen off the quay in the foreground, Warrell has outlined the otherwise undisturbed scene here: ‘Warmed to a variety of bruised pinks by the departing sun, the colours of the west end of the church are marvellously contrasted ... with the deepening greens of the Lagoon; above these tones, the softly translucent yellow of the sky was built up with flecked and stippled brushwork.’12
Martin Butlin has described the ‘ethereal’ forms, ‘suggested by tonal variations, assisted here and there by pen or brush-strokes, mainly in red, but also in blue and other colours. The foreground detail is less precise than that in the middle distance so that the eye is led into the depths of the centralised and, in the most gentle sense of the word, vortex-like composition.’13 Robert Upstone called this ‘one of the most atmospheric’ of the Venice colour studies, which ‘evokes a sense of mistiness by applying harmoniously coloured washes, and bleeding colours into each other’,14 while Warrell observed that ‘the city is possessed completely by coloured mists’, and the ‘composition is balanced simply by the turquoise and dark amber colours that Turner has selected, which he runs together in places to produce deep mauve shadows and reflections.’15
In 1857, John Ruskin characterised this view as ‘Looking down the Giudecca’, hinting in mildly humorous style at his local knowledge: ‘That is to say, looking from the lagoon into this great thoroughfare of Venice, the way its current runs. As we are here at the outskirts of the city, and looking towards its centre, we should perhaps say in any other town we were looking “up” the street of it; but the direction of the current must, I suppose, regulate our mode of parlance in Venice.’16
Warrell 2003, p.194; see also p.188.
See maps of 1797 and 1849, in Stainton 1985, p.[2] and Warrell 2003, fig.1 respectively; see also Warrell 2003, p.194.
See Jeff Cotton, ‘Santi Biagio e Cataldo’, The Churches of Venice, accessed 16 July 2018, https://www.churchesofvenice.co.uk/demolished.htm#santib&c.
See Warrell 2003, p.188.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.264 no.419, pl.423.
Ibid., p.194.
Ibid., p.188.
Gage 1969, p.39.
See Sam Smiles, ‘Open air, work in’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.205–7.
Wilton 1975, p.139; see also p.142.
Stainton 1985, p.55.
Warrell 2003, p.194.
Butlin 1962, p.66.
Upstone 1993, p.36.
Warrell 1995, p.113.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.214–15.
Technical notes:
There is no underlying pencil work, details being drawn with ‘a pen dipped in watercolour’, and some use of ‘coloured crayons’ has also been detected.1
Warrell 2003, p.272.
Blank, save for scattered splashes or offsetting of blue colour at centre right; inscribed in pencil ‘9’ at centre, upside down; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXV – 12’ towards bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXV – 12’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Canale della Giudecca, Venice, with Santa Maria della Salute and Other Churches to the East, from near the Convent of Santi Biagio e Cataldo 1840 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 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-the-canale-della-giudecca-venice-with-santa-maria-della-r1196839, accessed 08 May 2021.