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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851
Venice, The Mouth of the Grand Canal
ca. 1840
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 8 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches (22.2 x 31.8 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, verso, lower left: "J.M.W. TURNER : VENICE , THE MOUTH OF THE GRAND CANAL"

Watermark: Whatman 1834

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
boats | buildings | canal | canal | cityscape | dome | Grand Tour | marine art | steeples
Associated Places:
Europe | Grand Canal | Italy | Veneto | Venezia | Venice
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IIIF Manifest:

Turner's dazzling paintings and watercolors of Venice are among his most celebrated works, and his vision continues to shape our perception of the city today. Turner first visited Venice in 1819, stopping there to draw intensively for a few days en route to Rome. In a state of economic decline in the aftermath of Napoleonic occupation, the former maritime empire was rarely visited by artists at this period, though Lord Byron lived there intermittently between 1817 and 1820, and Turner's visit may have been in part inspired by the publication in 1818 of the evocative fourth canto of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
Later characterized by John Ruskin as "a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak, so quiet, bereft of all but her loveliness," Venice, with its seductive combination of evanescent luminosity, rich literary and artistic associations, and decaying grandeur, was an ideal subject for Turner, whose major preoccupations were the rise and fall of civilizations and the depiction of light (as he later remarked to Ruskin, "Atmosphere is my style" [Ruskin, Works, vol. 9, p. 17]). Yet, paradoxically, the "Glorious City in the Sea" was slow to captivate Turner's imagination; after returning to England in 1820, he produced just one unfinished canvas of the Rialto and, aside from a few watercolors, did not turn his attention to the city again until 1833, when he exhibited two Venetian subjects at the Royal Academy. Turner returned later that year, and again in 1840, compulsively drawing (his three brief visits yielded over a thousand sketches), and produced Venetian canvasses and watercolors steadily between 1833 and the late 1840s.
Turner was a virtuoso watercolorist, and the medium was particularly well suited to capturing Venice's elusive and volatile atmospheric conditions. As Ian Warrell has demonstrated (2003, p. 171), this view of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Dogana is a sheet from the widely dispersed "Storm" sketchbook in use during Turner's 1840 visit, which contained a series of finished watercolors charting the progress of a dramatic thunderstorm over Venice. As Warrell conjectures convincingly, Turner probably made the watercolors immediately on his return to the Europa Hotel after being caught in the storm.

Gillian Forrester

Baskett, John, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson, Brian Allen, and William Reese. Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art. New Haven : Yale Center for British Art , 2007, cat. no. 92

Unto this Last: Two Hundred Years of John Ruskin (Yale Center for British Art, 2019-09-05 - 2019-12-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and Venice (Kimbell Art Museum, 2004-02-15 - 2004-05-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and Venice (Tate Britain, 2003-10-09 - 2004-01-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Edward Lear and the Art of Travel (Yale Center for British Art, 2000-09-20 - 2001-01-14) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

J. M. W. Turner (Musée du Louvre, 1983-10-14 - 1984-01-16) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Sir Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), , April 28, 1977, p. 9, Times Digital Archive [ORBIS]

Timothy J. Barringer, Unto this last : two hundred years of John Ruskin, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 131, cat. 11, NJ18.R895 .B37 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 285, no. 92, pl. 92, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 92, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Ruskin, The works of John Ruskin, vol. 1-39, George Allen, London, 1903-1912, p. 17 (v. 9), , PR5251 C66 1903 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Eric Shanes, The life and masterworks of J.M.W. Turner, Parkstone Press, New York, 2008, pp. 12-13, NJ18 T85 S441 2008 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ian Warrell, Turner and Venice, Tate Publishing, London, 2003, p. 171, NJ18 T85 W36 2003 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Edward Lear and the art of travel, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2000, pp. 184-5, no. 202, NJ18 L455 W55 2000 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Andrew Wilton, The life and work of J.M.W. Turner, Academy Editions, London, 1979, p. 463, No. 1360, NJ18 T85 +W577 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

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