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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Venice: The Punta della Dogana, with the Zitelle in the Distance - Early Morning 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Venice: The Punta della Dogana, with the Zitelle in the Distance – Early Morning 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 6
Watercolour on white wove paper, 223 x 285 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘6’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXI – 6’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg subsequently annotated his 1909 Inventory entry (‘Venice: Punta della Salute’): ‘Dogana & Salute’.1 The Turner scholar C.F. Bell added in another copy: ‘The Dogana and Zitelle from the Europa sunrise’.2 Bell similarly annotated Finberg’s In Venice with Turner (1930).3 Looking south across the Grand Canal, the view is centred on the monumental porch of Venice’s customs house, the Dogana di Mare, now the Punta della Dogana contemporary art museum, with the dome and twin bell towers of the church of Le Zitelle (Santa Maria della Prezentatione) across the Giudecca Canal to the south-south-east. Turner’s low viewpoint was in front of the Palazzo (or Ca’) Giustinian (later the Hotel Europa, and now the headquarters of the Venice Biennale).4 Finberg described ‘a morning scene. Nearly all the Zitella [sic] and Dogana are in shadow, but the sun catches the side of the Patriarchal Seminary, stains the near water yellow, and gilds the hulls and masts of some of the fishing boats.’5
Although the Seminario Patriarcale is introduced as a vertical accent above the roofline on the right, in reality it is proportionately about twice as far from the porch as suggested here, Turner having laterally compressed the long, flat canal front of the Dogana, treating its articulation of doorways and arched windows somewhat hazily in the process. The same proportions are common to other treatments of the juxtaposed buildings discussed below.
Lindsay Stainton has observed that this watercolour and another showing the church on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore (D15254; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4) effectively form a panorama,6 and stated that the oil painting The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842 (Tate N00372),7 was ‘based on’ them.8 There is a detailed pencil drawing of the Dogana from the same viewpoint in the smaller contemporary Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14389; Turner Bequest CLXXV 40); Andrew Wilton has suggested that it informed this watercolour,9 and Ian Warrell has noted that the pencil study establishes ‘the essence’ of the view,10 and proposed that it could have been utilised for the 1842 painting in conjunction with others in the Milan to Venice book showing prospects to the left (Tate D14442; Turner Bequest CLXXV 66a, with San Giorgio) and to the right (Tate D14417; CLXXV 54).11 Probably fortuitously, a watercolour of about 1840, The New Moon (the Punta della Dogana, with the Zitelle Beyond) (private collection)12 is also topographically comparable.
For extensive general discussion of the Como and Venice book’s four Venetian watercolours (D15254–D15256, D15258; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4–7), see the sketchbook’s Introduction.13 Of them, Stainton has characterised this and the San Giorgio watercolour as ‘identical in style’, such that they ‘must have been executed one immediately after the other, about two hours after sunrise’.14 Warrell has noted that all four are ‘exceptional for the simplicity of means by which the clear light ... is vividly reproduced. There is also an economy in the delineation of form. For example, the brilliant light [here] dissolves the outline of Santa Maria della Presentazione (the Zitelle) in the distance so that it is described purely as an area of colour’.15
Warrell has considered it ‘evident that some or all’ of the Venice watercolours ‘were painted directly in front of the motif, most obviously’ this and D15254:
Even Turner himself rarely surpassed the revelatory immediacy these works possess in their presentation of a moment defined by light. ... Clearly painted relatively quickly after one another, the watercolours capture the brilliance of the sun an hour or two after it has risen. Both works are restrained, combining a deft use of the white paper with planes of blue-grey colour to suggest the blinding dazzle, making the objects seen against the light appear essentially flat.16
Nevertheless, he has conceded that there was likely some subsequent work to develop the image: ‘Away from this glare, Turner subtly introduced more colour’;17 see also Eric Shanes’s comments in the technical notes below.
The ‘1818–1821’ volume of Finberg’s personal, chronologically arranged albums of Turner’s works includes his own watercolour copy of this page.18
Undated MS note by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
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).
See Wilton 1975, p.52, Wilton 1982, p.40, and Stainton 2985, p.42.
Finberg 1930, p.23.
See Stainton 1985, pp.33, 42; see also Warrell 2003, p.88.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.245–6 no.396, pl.400 (colour); see also Wilton 1975, p.52.
Stainton 1985, p.33.
Wilton 1975, p.52.
Warrell 1993, p.292; Warrell 1994, p.116.
Warrell 2003, p.263 note 6; see also Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 3.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.464 no.1365; see also Butlin 1974, p.152, and Butlin and Joll 1984, p.245.
Including comments from Clark and others 1959, p.264, Wilton 1979, p.142, Wilton 1982, pp.40–1, Powell 1984, p.43, Powell 1987, p.16, Warrell 1993, p.292, Warrell 1994, p.116, Jan Morris and Ian Warrell in Warrell 2003, pp.12 and 16 respectively, and Warrell 2008, pp.57, 67 note 1.
Stainton 2985, p.42.
Warrell 1993, p.292, and Warrell 1994, p.116; see also Warrell 2003, p.88.
Warrell 2003, p.88; see also Warrell 2008, p.57.
Ibid.; see also further discussion in Warrell 2008, p.57.
A.J. Finberg, ‘Turner’s Work’, no date, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.V, laid in at folio 82.
Technical notes:
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.
Eric Shanes has made an extended technical analysis of this work in particular, comparing it with the less developed ‘colour beginning’-type pages still retained in the book (see the Introduction), and in particular with folio 11 recto (D15262), ‘the most sensitive and subtle in colouring’;1 see also folio 10 recto (D15261). He has observed:
Beneath the representation of buildings and boats ... may easily be apprehended a band of diffused colours that is very similar to the one in [D15262]. In [the present work] Turner first soaked the entire sheet and then used broad brushes to wash (or ‘float in’) bands of smalt or cobalt blue at the top, and Naples yellow at the bottom. Subsequently he brushed further blue into the sky, although some of the underpainted area on the right had now dried, thus giving the brushmarks crisp edges in places. When the foregoing had completely dried the buildings were added, as well as the yellow and red forms of the boats (this too is made clear by sharp edges to the colour). Still later were added a few darker tones to the boats, as their edges and overpaintings of the yellow and red forms make equally evident.2
Shanes has compared this ‘gradual darkening of the image’ with the ‘the tonal “scale practice”’3 he has explored in depth elsewhere.4

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Shanes 1997, p.36.
Ibid., pp.36–7.
Ibid., p.37.
See ibid., p.24, and Eric Shanes, Young Mr Turner: The First Forty Years 1775–1815, New Haven and London 2016, pp.49–65.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Venice: The Punta della Dogana, with the Zitelle in the Distance – Early 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-punta-della-dogana-with-the-zitelle-in-the-r1186396, accessed 30 May 2024.