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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Balbi in the Distance and the Campanile of the Frari Beyond 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Balbi in the Distance and the Campanile of the Frari Beyond 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXV 18
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 222 x 320 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1834’
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘C St Roc[...]’ top centre, ‘Foscari’ and ‘Balbi’ bottom centre, and ‘[?Rali...]’ towards bottom right
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCXV 18’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg later annotated his 1909 Inventory entry (‘“Church of S. Rocco” from the Rio di Cà “Foscari.”’): ‘No. The Grand Canal & tower of the Frari, from near Ca Mocenigo. CFB’.1 The initials are those of the Turner scholar C.F. Bell, indicating that Finberg was noting his comments; Bell himself made a similar annotation in another copy, albeit ending ‘Palazzo Mocenigo’.2 The setting is the south-western bend of the Grand Canal, looking north along a short, straight reach before the bend to the right towards the Rialto; compare a pencil sketch in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31917; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 64a). See also Tate D32088–D32089 (Turner Bequest CCCXIV 86, 86a), more detailed views in the 1833 Venice sketchbook.
Turner was positioned off the Palazzi Contarini degli Scrigni e Corfù, lightly indicated in the left foreground; the adjoining Palazzo Mocenigo Gambara, mentioned in Finberg and Bell’s notes, is out of sight behind this point. Beyond the Rio di San Trovaso the palaces receding up the west side include the low Casa Mainella, the taller Palazzo Loredan dell’Ambasciatore, other lower ones before the prominent Ca’ Rezzonico, and more before the Ca’ Foscari, at the centre overlooking the bend, perhaps in momentary shadow from a cloud.
To the right of the Foscari is the sunlit façade of the Palazzo Balbi, lacking its twin obelisks, with the smaller Palazzo Caotorta-Angaran to the right. The campanile of the Frari church, looming over the Balbi, is roughly the same distance again further on. Returning along the east side on the right, the largest block is the Palazzo Grassi, opposite the Ca’ Rezzonico; its near end is illuminated by sunlight in the Campo San Samuele, with the Palazzo Malipiero completing the prospect on the right.
The effect is of morning light from the right below a fluidly rendered sky, giving a sense of direct experience, albeit Andrew Wilton has described the study as among those in this sketchbook ‘which seem to have been made with the intention of recording architecture rather than conveying atmosphere’, including Tate D32123 and D32131 (CCCXV 7, 15).3 The latter employs as similar viewpoint to look eastwards past the Accademia towards Santa Maria della Salute.4 John Gage observed that among the various modes employed in this book, 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.’5 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.6
Turner’s scrawled inscriptions, suggested here as ‘C St Roc[...]’ at the top and ‘Foscari’, ‘Balbi’ and ‘[?Rali...]’ below, have been taken in slightly different ways. As noted above, Finberg partially incorporated and interpreted them in his published title, ‘“Church of S. Rocco” from the Rio di Cà “Foscari.”’ Andrew Wilton gave ‘C N Rock’, ‘Foscar[i]’, ‘Balic(?)’ and ‘Ralli’,7 while Ian Warrell deduced that Turner ‘was temporarily moored off the Palazzo “Falier”, by the Ca’del Duca, looking directly at the “Balbi” palace’;8 his ‘Falier’ is apparently the word at the bottom right, which seems rather to begin with ‘R’. The Ca’ del Duca, the entrance to the Rio del Duca, and the Palazzo Falier are just beyond the edge of the view to the right.
The inscription over the Frari has been convincingly interpreted by Warrell as referring to the nearby church of that dedication and the associated Scuola Grande di San Rocco ‘where he had been awestruck by Tintoretto’s paintings, and which he evidently revisited at some point during his stay in 1840’ as shown by pencil sketches of the churches and the Scuola in the Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31861–D31862; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 36a, 37).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.
Undated MS note by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, opposite p.1017.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1017.
Wilton 1975, p.148.
See Warrell 2003, p.161.
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.148.
Warrell 2003, p.161.
Ibid., pp.161, 264 note 20.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Technical notes:
The freshness of the original effect has been compromised by the darkening of the paper owing to prolonged exposure in the course of touring with the Second Loan Collection selected from the Turner Bequest; the paper is brighter where the edges were protected by a mount, most notably along a wider strip at the left-hand edge.
Apart from the scattered inscriptions, pencil work is limited to the campanile and the Palazzo Balbi’s windows below it. The blue strip towards the top right (along what was the outer edge when this sheet was still in place in the long-dismembered sketchbook) was presumably inadvertently transferred from another composition.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘no 11’ top left, upside down, and ‘14’ right of centre; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over CCCXV – 18’, and inscribed in pencil ‘CCCXV.18’ and ‘D32134’, bottom left.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Balbi in the Distance and the Campanile of the Frari Beyond 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-palazzo-balbi-in-the-r1196845, accessed 04 August 2021.