Turner's view looks past the Dogana towards San Giorgio Maggiore which glows in the half light. Storm clouds roll across from the South or South East, seemingly about to engulf Venice, and the gondoliers and boatmen row as fast as they can towards the Dogana seeking shelter. Turner appears to have taken his view from a boat in the Canale della Guidecca near to the Europa Hotel where he was staying between 20th August and 3rd September in 1840.
The complexity of the technique used in this watercolour indicates that at least much of the watercolour was executed under dry conditions, for the almost dry brushstrokes used for the gondolas, the pen-nib dipped in watercolour for some architectural touches by the Dogana, and the scratching and stopping out with a sponge or cloth evident in the buildings and sky would require sheltered conditions. Furthermore, it appears that Turner included a base colour to parts of the sheet mainly behind the storm clouds but also on the water below San Georgio and below the gondoliers. This has enabled him to create a contrast to show the buildings glowing softly as if they are about to disappear under the heavy rain.
All this points to the likelihood of the completion of the watercolour in his room at the Hotel Europa at least, safe from the downpour blown across Venice by the Scirroco winds (Fig.1). Such storms were noted by Clarkson Stanfield in October 1830 when he observed, "woe betide the Gondoliers that have not time to get home before the riot commences! They are knocked about like egg-shells...the inhabitants crowd upon the terraces to look on in silent alarm... All Venice is in an uproar."[i]
This sheet is one of eighteen pages from the 'The Storm' Sketchbook.[ii] The consensus is that this book was left with Turner's agent Thomas Griffith who offered them for sale after Turner's death. This is supported by the fact that this and other watercolours from the 'Storm' Sketchbook are more finished than the sketches in another 1834 Whatman book entitled the 'Venice; Passau to Würzburg' Sketchbook.[iii]
After pointing out that the watercolours from the 'Storm' Sketchbook are finished works and therefore might have been drawn with the market in mind, Ian Warrell noticed that "the studies retain the feeling of having evolved on the page. It is thought, having returned to the Europa wet and dripping after being caught in the storm, Turner needed to work through the impressions that were still so vivid and fresh."[iv]
Turner's visit to Venice in 1840 was his longest, two weeks, and his most productive. His energy was confirmed by William Callow (1812-1908), aged 28, who met Turner in Venice in 1840; 'My recollection of Turner is that of a short, dark man, inclined to stoutness, with a merry twinkle in his eye. The next time I met Turner was at Venice, at the Hotel Europa, where we sat opposite at meals and entered into conversation. One evening whilst I was enjoying a cigar in a gondola I saw Turner in another one sketching San Giorgio, brilliantly lit by the setting sun. I felt quite ashamed of myself idling away my time whilst he was hard at work so late.'[v]
The present work was sold initially to the Reverend Stopford Augustus Brooke (1832 - 1916). He lived in Manchester Square in London and had an extensive collection of art including works by William Blake, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Walter Crane and Alphonse Legros as well as Turner. He was an Irishman, a celebrated preacher and author. In 1885 he published Notes on the Liber Studiorum by J. M. W. Turner which has been described by Luke Hermann in The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, 2001, as "one of the most valuable and reliable guides to the Liber."
The 1840 Venetian watercolours, of which this is one of the finest, represent a pioneering use of watercolour. Turner had developed the use of colour to make light and therefore form. Finberg described the 1840 Venetian watercolours as representing "unearthly brilliance" and creating an "atmosphere of poetry, of love, and of infinite suggestion."[vi] Ian Warrell also aptly concludes that "the sustained brilliance of this series has come to epitomise for many people the idea of late Turner."[vii]
[i] See: Clarkson Stanfield 1793-1867, Tyne and Wear County Council Museums, exhibition catalogue, p. 118
[ii] The other known sheets from the 'Storm' Sketchbook which amount to eighteen include; two at the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1353 & 1361), one at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1358), four at the National Gallery of Scotland (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1352, 1370, 1371 & 1374), one at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1373), two at the British Museum (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1354 & 1359), one at Yale centre for British Art, New Haven (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1360), three at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, no. 1363, 1364 & 1366) and four in Private Collections (A. Wilton, lit.op.cit, 1979, 1368,) and three others.
[iii] See Ian Warrell, Turner and Venice, 2000, Appendix, p. 258. The 'Venice; Passau to Würzburg' Sketchbook (TB CCCXV 1-21).
[iv] Ian Warrell, lit.op.cit., 2000, p. 170).
[v] William Callow R.W.S., F.R.G.S. An Autobiography, edited by H.M. Cundall, 1908, p. 67.
[vi] A..J. Finberg, In Venice with Turner, 1930, p. 135.
[vii] Ian Warrell, lit.op.cit., 2000, p.25
Watercolour over traces of pencil, with stopping out, scratching out and with evidence of pen, on wove paper watermarked: J. Whatman 1834
Joseph Mallord William Turner
London, Royal Academy, 1974, no. 551;
London, Tate Gallery, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA, Turner and Venice, 2003- 2004, no. 113
222 by 320 mm., 8 3/4 by 12 5/8 in.
Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 282;
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Art and Life, 1979, p. 463, no. 1355 Country Life, 3. June 1982;
Turner Studies, his Art and Epoch, News and Sales Information, Vol. 2 (1) 58, 1982; Vol. 8 (1) 60, 1988;
Ian Warrell, Turner and Venice, 2007, p. 186, no. 113, pl. 187
Reverend Stopford Augustus Brooke, Manchester Square, London;
Anonymous sale, Christie's London, 16th March 1982, lot 92, bt. £145,000;
John Gaines, his sale, Sotheby's New York, 17th November 1986, lot 28 (bt. $577,500);
with Richard Green Ltd