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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Lit by a Rocket, across the Grand Canal from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian) at Night 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Lit by a Rocket, across the Grand Canal from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian) at Night 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 29
Watercolour and gouache on red-brown wove paper, 240 x 315 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCXVIII – 29’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
From a viewpoint around the Traghetto del Ridotto or the front of the adjacent Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian), the Baroque domes of Santa Maria della Salute are shown to the south-west across the entrance to the Grand Canal, with the Seminario Patriarcale to their immediate left and the low north side of the Dogana terminating in its porch at the left. This is a study in chiaroscuro, with the pale stone and brick-built Dogana in silhouette against the night sky (only relieved by three yellow twinkles of light and their reflections), contrasted with the sudden, lurid brightness of the domes in the glare from the arcing trail of an ascending rocket. Below, a passing gondola is backlit on the canal, while the pale form of what appears to be a balustraded balcony frames the right foreground. Timothy Wilcox has characterised the ‘many degrees of darkness all throw into relief’ by the ‘flash of the rocket’,1 and Martin Butlin has compared the effect with that of the raw, jagged zig-zag in the more finished contemporary watercolour Lightning in the Piazzetta (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh);2 compare also Tate D32254 (Turner Bequest CCCXIX 6) in the present grouping.
The balustrade detail likely implies an elevated viewpoint within the hotel itself, where Turner was staying; see the introduction to this subsection. Compare the pencil studies of the Dogana and Salute from much the same angle in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31830; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 20a), inscribed ‘Balcony of the Europa’; see also D32296 (CCCXX 17a) in the 1840 Rotterdam to Venice book. Of three closely related, if relatively muted night views, Tate D32232 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 13) shows much the same prospect from the waterfront, and D32230 (CCCXVIII 11) focuses on the church, its domes silhouetted against a crescent moon, while D32238 (CCCXVIII 19) shows the view over the Bacino east of the Dogana’s porch; all are framed by the hotel at one side or the other.3 See also D32249 and D33883 (CCCXIX 1, CCCXLI 183), variations in brighter ambient light.
D32224 (CCCXVIII 5) shows what appears to be a full-blown firework display over the rooftops and waterfront towards the campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s), suggesting Turner’s bedroom as the viewpoint. Lindsay Stainton and others have discussed that work and this in relation to the painting Juliet and her Nurse, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836 (private collection; engraved in 1842 as ‘St Mark’s Place, Venice’: Tate impression T05188),4 with its night view over St Mark’s Square apparently illuminated by bright moonlight and fireworks beneath a starry sky. Numerous watercolours (often night scenes) now associated with Turner’s 1840 stay in Venice were formerly considered likely preparatory studies and consequently dated prior to the painting; see the Introduction to the present tour.5 Ian Warrell has noted:
Venetians had a long and distinguished reputation as the ‘masters of pyrotechnics’, arising from their extravagant firework displays. These were staged on saints’ days and other festivities, but as none of Turner’s visits coincided with the most significant of these celebrations, it is possible that he saw only an impromptu demonstration, or that he simply imagined how the abrupt burst of light would contrast with and ornament the retreating silhouettes of his scene.6
Included in the long-running Third Loan Collection touring selection from the Bequest in 1869, presumably on account of its well-known subject and dramatic effect, this is one of the ‘few of Turner’s “brown paper” series ... considered worthy of being exhibited until comparatively recently’, as Warrell has observed.7
Wilcox 1990, p.34.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.463 no.1352, reproduced; see Butlin 1962, p.52.
See also Warrell 2003, p.132.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.215–17 no.365, pl.369 (colour).
See Stainton 1985, pp.24, 46, and Warrell 2003, pp.20, 71; see also Butlin 1960, pp.11, 52, Stainton 1982, p.72, Wilcox 1990, p.34, and Lyles 1992, p.69.
Warrell 2003, p.132.
Warrell 2003, p.131; see ibid., p.264 note 8.
Technical notes:
The sheet has darkened considerably except where formerly protected by a mount at the edges, where the bare paper is noticeably brighter. This has presumably affected the intended tonal range, with some loss to the warm middle register exploited by Turner’s leaving some of the paper untouched. The reflection of the rocket’s trail is in yellow chalk, also used for the Dogana’s windows and one or two other details at the centre, and for reinforcing the white arc of the rocket itself. Thick blobs of white gouache mark the pinnacle of the main dome.
In developing the composition, Turner may originally have intended the church to be larger, as there seems to be a ghostly halo effect of reserved paper around the domes defined by the boundary of the dark blue wash in the surrounding sky. Martin Butlin has remarked on Turner’s ‘virtuosity’ here:
Although such forms as the gondola are modelled in solid flat washes, the facade of the Salute is suggested by a much more open technique in which the brown ground is left bare between blue and white brush-strokes and heavily dragged washes of white. The red glow below the church blurs the distinction between the steps and the water while the Dogana practically melts away into the deep blue sky, bringing about the blending of material and immaterial elements that Turner carried still further in many of his later works.1
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Red-brown paper made at Cartieri Pietro Milani Mill, Fabriano, with a watermark showing the letter “M” accompanied by laurel leaves:2 Tate D32224, D32227, D32230, D32238–D32241, D32245–D32246, D32248, D32251, D32254 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5, 8, 11, 19–22, 26, 27, 29, CCCXIX 3, 6). As Warrell has observed; the support ‘seems to be quite absorbent, so that the colours penetrate through to the back of the sheet’.3
Butlin 1962, p.52; see complementary remarks in Stainton 1985, p.50.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 9) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also see also 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.111 under no.64; and Warrell 2003, p.259, sections 10 and 11, for other likely Italian (possibly Fabriano) brown papers.
Ibid., section 9.
Laid down on later white wove paper; inscribed in pencil ‘62’ centre, ascending vertically; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXVIII – 29’ bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXVIII.29’ bottom centre.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Lit by a Rocket, across the Grand Canal from the Hotel Europa (Palazzo Giustinian) at Night 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-dogana-and-santa-maria-della-salute-venice-lit-by-a-r1197027, accessed 24 November 2020.