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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Entrance to the Rio di San Luca between the Palazzi Grimani and Corner Contarini dei Cavalli 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Entrance to the Rio di San Luca between the Palazzi Grimani and Corner Contarini dei Cavalli 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXV 7
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 221 x 324 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CCCXV – 7’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
From the north side of the Grand Canal level with the Palazzo Papadopoli, the view is to the south-east, straight down the Rio di San Luca at the centre. To its left and right are the imposing Palazzo Grimani and the smaller Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli, unusually shown in elevation in relation to the side canal rather than as part of a prospect along the main waterway; compare another 1840 colour study, Tate D32143 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 6).1
As Finberg noted, the north-western corner of Grimani actually forms an acute angle, but the effect of a kink or bulge as its western side is not ‘entirely imaginary’,2 as it turns away a little beyond the first two bays, creating a slight optical impression of convexity. Some of the watercolour details seem more fanciful, as though elaborated later rather than dashed in on the spot. The basically flat front of the Palazzo Corner, with its delicate filigree Gothic articulation, is made more of a sculptural mass in the shadows, and its tiled sloping roofline seems exaggerated, making it more imposing and creating the effect almost of a vertical classical pediment. Ian Warrell has noted the resulting effect of ‘harmonious conjunction’ between the two rather different buildings.3
In 1857, John Ruskin described this watercolour: ‘Very careless; but admitted into the series [of Venice views, as noted in this sketchbook’s Introduction] as being one of those used for the materials of the oil picture of “Shylock” and as showing a different method of study from most of the others.’4 By this he meant The Grand Canal, Venice (Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California),5 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice including a line of Shylock’s. It was in Ruskin’s own collection at the time he referred to it, somewhat gratuitously, since (aside from its now being known to pre-date the present work) its viewpoint is very different: from the south side of the canal, below the north-west corner of the Grimani, looking east to the Rialto Bridge. See under Tate D14455 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 73), the pencil drawing in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook which was the actual source of the painting. Tate D32121, from the present sketchbook (Turner Bequest CCCXV 5), is another instance of Ruskin’s confidently but spuriously linking an 1840 watercolour to an earlier painting.6
Andrew Wilton compared the colour here with that used for ‘some of the grey paper studies’ of the same date, including that of Tate D32214 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 29),7 since identified as a view down the Rio di San Luca from between the two Grand Canal palaces, approximating to the quarter of the present design to the right of centre. He characterised this work as among those ‘made with the intention of recording architecture rather than conveying atmosphere’,8 although the fall of shadows and the ambient reflected light along the side canal is carefully suggested.9
Warrell has noted this page as among about half the views associated with this sketchbook depicting the ‘long canyon of palaces’ winding north and south of the Rialto Bridge along the ‘central part’ of the Grand Canal: D32117–D32119, D32123, D32131, D32132, D32134–D32137 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 1, 2, 3, 7, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21).10 See also D32121, D32122 and D32124 (CCCXV 5, 6, 8), showing scenes near its north-west and south-east ends, and D32178 (CCCXVI 41), a central subject now also linked to the book. For sites beyond the Grand Canal, see the sketchbook’s Introduction.
See Warrell 2003, p.156 for this and further scattered examples.
Finberg 1930, p.171.
Warrell 2003, p.151.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.213.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.219–20 no.368, pl.373 (colour).
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Wilton 1975, p.148.
Ibid.; see also Warrell 1995, p.108.
See Warrell and Perkins 1988, p.19, Wilton 1988, p.138, and Warrell 2003, p.151.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Technical notes:
Some rough pencil work at the left, along the skyline, suggests initial, rapid first-hand observation. There is a finger print in the colour at the bottom right.
Blank, save for grey strokes of colour or offsetting from another page at the centre right, towards what was originally the gutter of the sketchbook, and a vertical band of light rubbing or offsetting about two thirds of the way across; likely pencil tests towards top right, with three long and three short parallel vertical strokes; inscribed in pencil ‘22’ centre; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXV – 7’ towards bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXV.7’ bottom centre.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Entrance to the Rio di San Luca between the Palazzi Grimani and Corner Contarini dei Cavalli 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-grand-canal-venice-with-the-entrance-to-the-rio-di-san-r1196834, accessed 30 November 2020.