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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Steps of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with Boats on the Grand Canal 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Steps of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with Boats on the Grand Canal 1840
Turner Bequest CCCXV 5
Pencil, watercolour and pen on white wove paper, 221 x 323 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCCXV – 5’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Looking west from near the entrance of the Grand Canal, the imposing Baroque entrance portico of the church of Santa Maria della Salute looms high to the south-west on the left with the rosy apsidal end of the former abbey church of San Gregorio catching the morning light beyond. The low waterfront abbey buildings to its right are now dominated by the Gothic-revival Palazzo Genovese. The canal is laterally compressed here to tighten the composition, so it appears proportionately around half its actual width or less,1 and the palazzo buildings on the right are not clearly differentiated or identifiable, creating rather a general impression of the scene and rapid recession to the right of centre.
The left-hand side, with the treads of the steps reserved as bare paper and architectural features perhaps ‘drawn’ with the point of the brush (although this can be a moot point, and the implement has also been described in this case as a ‘pen dipped in watercolour’2); it was possibly begun on the spot, as the details there are slight but generally accurate, and the light just catching the angle of the Salute’s pediment gives an effect of direct observation. The right-hand side was perhaps developed later to lend pictorial coherence. Writing in 1857, John Ruskin noted this study as ‘interesting as a vigorous memorandum of the dark green reflection of the gondola’,3 another element adding immediacy to the effect.
In passing, Ruskin declared the subject the ‘first idea of the engraved picture of “The Grand Canal”’,4 meaning the oil painting Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 (Metropolitan Museum, New York),5 which had been engraved in 1838 as ‘The Grand Canal, Venice’ (Tate impression T05787) and again after Turner’s lifetime (T06341). Now known to predate the present work, the painting shows the Salute’s porch on the right and, with a gondola moving towards the bottom right corner and its view eastwards to the Bacino, its arrangement is doubly opposed. In 1909 Finberg tentatively relayed Ruskin’s comment,6 but by 1930 he had given this sheet its current date and dismissed any connection,7 as did Evelyn Joll, who identified a pencil drawing in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14444; Turner Bequest CLXXV 67a) as the actual source.8 Tate D32123 (CCCXV 7) is another instance where Ruskin confidently but spuriously linked a watercolour from this 1840 sketchbook to an earlier painting.
The Salute appears in many views associated with all three of Turner’s visits to Venice; one of the earliest is a detailed pencil study of the whole building and its surroundings looking in the same direction from across the Grand Canal in the 1819 Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14417; Turner Bequest CLXXV 54), the right-hand half of which happens to prefigure the present composition. Among Turner’s often looser and less detailed later drawings, one in the 1840 Venice and Botzen sketchbook (Tate D31920; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 66) corresponds, fortuitously or not, to the present colour study, with the Salute reduced to its portico’s columns, and a gondola passing at the same point, albeit heading in the other direction. The 1819 drawing was made from the vicinity of the Palazzo Giustinian, where the artist would stay in 1833 and 1840 after it became the Hotel Europa (see the parallel subsection of views made from and around the building in 1840).9
Ian Warrell has noted that about half the views associated with this sketchbook depict the ‘long canyon of palaces’ winding north and south of the Rialto Bridge along the ‘central part’ of the Grand Canal: Tate D32117–D32119, D32123, D32131, D32132, D32134–D32137 (Turner Bequest CCCXV 1, 2, 3, 7, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21).10 In addition, this page, D32122 and D32124 (CCCXV 6, 8), showing scenes near its north-west and south-east ends, while D32178 (CCCXVI 41), a central subject, is now also linked to the book. For sites beyond the Grand Canal, see the sketchbook’s Introduction.
See also Stainton 1985, p.54.
Warrell 2003, p.271.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.213.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.212–13 no.362, pl.367 (colour).
See Finberg 1909, II, p.1016.
See Finberg 1930, p.171; see also Stainton 1985, p.54, and Warrell 1995, p.106.
See Joll 1967, p.32, and Butlin and Joll 1984, p.213.
See also Warrell 1995, p.106, and Warrell 2003, p.168 for examples of Salute watercolours.
See Warrell 1995, p.108.
Technical notes:
Discussing the artist’s use of newly developed pigments, John Gage has noted that although emerald green ‘has not been identified among those discovered in Turner’s studio at the end of his life’,1 he appears to have used it here, among a few other given instances, in a transparent mixture with Prussian blue and yellow; see also Tate D32142 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 5),2 a similarly loose rooftop view from the Hotel Europa.
Gage 1969, p.19.
See ibid., p.226 note 12.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘4’ circled centre right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXV – 5’ towards bottom left.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Steps of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with Boats on the Grand Canal 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-steps-of-santa-maria-della-salute-venice-with-boats-on-r1196832, accessed 19 April 2021.