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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Venice: The Campanile of San Marco (St Mark's) and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) - Late Morning 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Venice: The Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) – Late Morning 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 7
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 223 x 287 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘7’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXI – 7’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Venice; Campanile and Ducal Palace, from the Canal’), crossing out the word ‘Canal’ and writing: ‘middle of the Canale di S. Marco | noonday’.1 Bell similarly annotated Finberg’s In Venice with Turner (1930): ‘The Ducal Palace, with Campanile, from the middle of the Basin of S. Mark. Noonday’.2 The viewpoint does indeed appear to be low on the water, and the iconic buildings are shown in selective detail, using a limited watercolour palette over pencil outlines from an angle which presents them head-on in a seemingly shallow space, like elements in a schematic architectural elevation or theatrical flats.
Ian Warrell has noted the lack of ‘underdrawing’ in the other Venice watercolours in this sketchbook (D15254–D15256; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4, 5, 6), suggesting that here it ‘may have helped resolve the complex interaction of architectural forms’, perhaps indicating that the subject was delineated ‘on the spot’;3 Tate D14436 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 63a), a pencil drawing from slightly to the west in the smaller contemporary Milan to Venice sketchbook ‘does not have sufficient detail for it to have been the source’.4
Despite the relative slightness of the pencil work, what is shown is interrelated carefully and with sufficient clarity to triangulate Turner’s position: on the Bacino east of the Dogana and aligned north-west of the harbour along the north side of the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, looking north-north-west along an axis running from the channel between that island and the Isola della Giudecca and the centreline of the Piazzetta (subtly but crucially indicating the recession of the nearest ranges on each side), terminating with the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower) on the north side of the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square).
Along the waterfront west of the Piazzetta are the Zecca (mint), with seven vertical strokes representing its upper windows, whereas the façade actually has nine bays, and the lower adjoining Biblioteca Marciana (Libreria Sansoviniana), with no indication of its three arched first-floor windows. Both inconsistencies might indicate working in watercolour at speed, prioritising light and colour over topographical accuracy once the pencil framework had been confidently established. Beyond the library rises the campanile of St Mark’s on the near side of the Piazza. Coming forward to the right of the clock tower are the two arched bays at the south-west corner of the Basilica of St Mark’s, with the westernmost of its domes falling at the centre of the sheet, partly eclipsed by the shadowy west front of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), which is shown in steep perspective.
The right-hand half of the composition is dominated by the complex diapered and arcaded Molo front of the palace, not rendered with consistent accuracy, with the Ponte della Paglia and the New Prison on the Riva degli Schiavoni to the right. The two granite columns at the entrance to the Piazzetta are inconspicuously but precisely indicated relative to the buildings beyond, with one immediately to the left of the clock tower and the other between the two bays of St Mark’s. To the left of the first the three flagpoles beyond the campanile are indicated, aligned parallel with the west front of the basilica. Given that the Piazzetta recedes slightly to the west of north, the lack of diagonal shadows suggests that the sun is just short of its zenith, towards noon.5
Finberg was ‘quite sure’ that the preceding Venice views in this sketchbook (see the Introduction) ‘were done from memory’, but felt that this one ‘may have been painted directly from nature; it is somewhat different in handling and intention from the others’:
The relative pitch of the colours of the marble walls and tower, the blazing sky and the glittering water, are recorded with a power and accuracy unrivalled by any modern Impressionist painting which I have seen. As a study it was perhaps the most useful drawing Turner made in Venice on this occasion, as it fixed upon his mind for the remainder of his life that vision of a city of gleaming marble rising from the sea which we find in his later paintings.6
Lindsay Stainton has noted that the ‘fact that the details were first drawn accurately, if summarily, in pencil, makes it possible, though by no means certain, that the colour was added afterwards, away from the motif’, suggesting that ‘the simplified palette, confined to blues and yellows, is consistent with this’, disregarding the ‘brick red’ of the campanile and the ‘subtle rose tint’ of the Doge’s Palace’ in order to ‘create a design that is as much expressive as descriptive’.7
In discussing the ‘colour beginning’ pages still remaining in situ in the Como and Venice sketchbook (the rectos of folios 10–13; D15261–D15264), with their ‘very summary banded washes’ of colour, John Gage has observed that the present work ‘shows how readily and naturally a frontal composition of sky, buildings and water could evoke this type of horizontal schematization. Venice certainly sharpened Turner’s awareness of this type of fundamental structure as a natural phenomenon’.8 Although other pages were prepared in this way, the upper half of this sheet at least appears to have been left blank initially, as the white of the paper shows through the strong blue, which is carefully worked around the pencil indications of the campanile, itself filled in with yellow ochre, leaving a glowing ‘halo’ of white paper between the two colours. Richard P. Townsend has described how, to ‘render the white clouds in the sky, Turner left portions of the paper untouched, lightly criss-crossing those areas with broad brushstrokes of blue watercolor. Subtle changes of color differentiate elements in nature: the pure blue of the sky varies from the blue-green of the water.’9
Gerald Finley has called the result ‘a remarkably vivid, immediate effect of colour and light; its radiant architecture appears insubstantial under the relentless, voracious assault of a dazzling sun’,10 while Andrew Wilton has discussed the handling as ‘rather coarse and bold’ compared with the ‘airy vaporousness’ of the other Venice views from this sketchbook,11 David Blayney Brown characterising it as ‘more functional, untidy even’.12 Wilton has described the ‘simple, direct composition and hot, clear colour ... reminiscent of Canaletto’s pictures’, with reference to the renowned Venetian painter (1697–1768) who Turner would later actually depict at work (see below).13
The overall arrangement is directly comparable with that in the watercolour vignette Turner made in about 1826–7 (Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193)14 to be engraved for the 1830 edition of Samuel Rogers’s Italy (Tate impression: T04606), although the architecture there is considerably and somewhat whimsically elaborated and prettified compared to the starkness of the present image. Another vignette, Venice (The Campanile) (currently untraced),15 apparently made just after Turner’s 1833 visit to the city,16 shows the Piazzetta from nearer to the Molo and gives correspondingly greater prominence to the two columns; it was engraved in 1835 for Walter Scott’s Life of Napoleon (Tate impressions: T04736, T04970).
The background of the painting Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti Painting, exhibited in the months before the 1833 trip (Tate N00370),17 features a similar arrangement, albeit presented from a little further east, with all the buildings shown in perspective with a vanishing point towards the right; the painting has something of the aspect of a capriccio, as the Dogana is brought prominently into the left foreground, a long way east of its true position. The 1840 painting Venice, the Bridge of Sighs (Tate N00527)18 corresponds to the right-hand third of the present composition and echoes its frontal treatment.
For extensive general discussion of the Como and Venice book’s four Venetian watercolours, see the sketchbook’s Introduction.19
Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by Bell (before 1936) in copy of Finberg 1930, Prints and Drawings Study Room, British Museum, London, p.168, as transcribed by Ian Warrell (undated notes, Tate catalogue files).
Warrell 2003, p.88; see also Warrell 2008, p.58.
Ibid., p.263 note 8.
See Stainton 1985, p.43, and Brown 2002, p.110.
Finberg 1930, p.23; also quoted in Wilton 1974, p.87; see also Perkins 1990, p.37.
Stainton 1985, p.43
Gage 1969, p.32; see also Gage 1972, p.[196].
Townsend 1998, p.110, see also Warrell 2003, p.88.
Finlay 1999, p.33.
Wilton 1982, p.41; see also Stainton 1985, p.43, Wilton 1988, p.72, and Perkins 1990, p.37.
Brown 2002, p.110.
Wilton 1982, p.41; see also Wilton 1987, p.112, Wilton 1988, p.72, Brown 1992, p.126, Townsend 1998, p.110, and Brown 2002, p.110.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.438 no.1162, reproduced; see also Gage 1972, p.[196].
Wilton 1979, p.431 no.1105.
See Warrell 2002, p.79.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.200–1 no.349, pl.356 (colour); see also Finberg 1930, p.79, Gage 1972, p.[196], Perkins 1990, p.37, Warrell 2003, p.88, Baetjer 2007, p.172 note 29, and Warrell 2008, p.67 note 11.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.235 no.383, pl.386 (colour); see also Wilton 1982, p.41.
Including comments from Clark and others 1959, p.264, Wilton 1979, p.142, Stainton 1981, p.82, Powell 1984, p.43, Stainton 1985, pp.14, 16, 43, Powell 1987, p.16, Wilton 1988, p.72, Perkins 1990, p.36, Brown 2002, p.23, Jan Morris and Ian Warrell in Warrell 2003, pp.12 and 16 respectively, and Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 1.
Technical notes:
There is a slight paper fault in the form of a thin, irregular area to the left of the campanile where the blue watercolour wash of the sky has pooled.
The work was painted within the Como and Venice sketchbook, the first eight leaves of which where mounted in 1935 (see the book’s Introduction); all of them were trimmed slightly irregularly at the gutter on the left, with the edges of the stitching holes being evident here and there.
Blank; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CLXXXI – 7’ and inscribed in pencil ‘D.15258’ bottom left, and inscribed in pencil ‘CLXXXI – 7’ bottom centre.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Venice: The Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s) and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) – Late Morning 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-venice-the-campanile-of-san-marco-st-marks-and-the-palazzo-r1186398, accessed 28 May 2024.