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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Venice: Down the Side Canals 1840

Turner Bequest CCCXVI 27, CCCXVII 14a–d, 32, CCCXVIII 23, 24, 27, CCCXVIII 3, CCCXIX 5, 9
This small grouping of colour studies and drawings in chalk and pencil comprises views of quieter corners of Venice, away from the bustle of the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), the Grand Canal and the sweeping vistas around the waters of the Bacino and Lagoon, as presented in other subsections of this catalogue. The works are on a variety of white, buff, grey and brown papers, as discussed in their individual technical notes; see also the Introduction to the tour. They include a glowing, somewhat ominous, and relatively finished watercolour of the Arsenale complex (D32164; CCCXVI 27), the first of the Turner Bequest’s Venice watercolours to be exhibited. Although there are hasty pencil sketches of the setting, topographical liberties have led to its being described as an ‘imaginary’ prospect,1 and the view of the church of Santo Stefano in this grouping (D32217; CCCXVII 32), is also a very free development from a slight pencil sketch.
The evocative silhouetted of the Bridge of Sighs beneath the stars (D32253; CCCXIX 5), likely in part a reminiscence of another artist’s painting, is a shadowy counterpart to the sunlit scene in Turner’s own oil of Venice, the Bridge of Sighs, exhibited earlier in 1840 (Tate N00527), with ‘a palace and | A prison on each hand’, as the attached quotation from Byron had it;2 a continual interplay of artistic, literary and historical associations informed Turner’s attitude to the city. There are also straightforward pencil sketches of the bridge, but otherwise, like the colour study, the rest of the works here are on warm brown papers, their broad treatment evoking nocturnal scenes with moonlit glimpses through old arches or down narrow canals where anonymous figures cross. This strong chiaroscuro was also employed in various arched interiors and figure scenes presented here in a parallel grouping.
See also the brief sequence of Rio di San Luca views in the ‘Grand Canal’ subsection, (D32214–D32216; CCCXVII 29–31).
Ian Warrell in Warrell, David Laven, Jan Morris and others, Turner and Venice, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, p.273.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.235 no.383, pl.386 (colour).

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Venice: Down the Side Canals 1840’, subset, 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/venice-down-the-side-canals-r1196481, accessed 05 December 2021.