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Turner And Venice Exhibition - Tate Britain

22/11/2003, By Tate Britain

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 22037 votes

The Dogana and San Giorgio

Turner and Venice examines the importance of the Italian city in the work of J.M.W Turner who visited it three times during his lifetime - in 1819, in 1833 and in 1840 - spending a combined total of just under one month there. The first room of the exhibition shows Venice through the eyes of other artists, including Antonio Canaletto whose work Turner admired.

Other rooms display Turner's oil paintings alongside views of his contemporaries, including Clarkson Stanfield, who was his closest rival. The bulk of the exhibition, however, consists of a succession of ravishing watercolours. The contents of the many sketchbooks on view allow visitors to see how Turner absorbed his subjects, building up an image from the slightest of pencil drawings, through colour studies to the completed, often highly-detailed work.

Bridge of Sighs

Even among Venice's many distinguished artistic visitors, Turner remains one of the few to find a true echo of his own sensibility in the unique qualities of this sublime floating city. His career was remarkable for its successes and its innovations yet his images of Venice were quickly recognised by their first viewers as some of his most magical, luminous works. Turner's vision remains as vital today, expressing as it does the often inchoate and funereal qualities of the Venetian experience.

Much of the material to be included in the exhibition is part of the Turner Bequest in the Tate Collection but, because of its fragile nature, a significant amount is not normally on view. Some of the watercolours will be displayed for the first time, including several of the romantic and mysterious studies Turner painted of Venice by moonlight.

Keelmen heaving in Coals

Among other highlights will be the chance to see pairs of pictures that were conceived as pendants, but which have been separated since they were sold shortly after being completed. For instance, the 1840 pairing of Tate's Venice, the Bridge of Sighs and Venice, from the Canale della Giudecca, Chiesa di S.Maria della Salute from the Victoria and Albert Museum will be reunited. There will be extensive loans from public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Toledo Museum of Art as well as many works from private collections.

The exhibition will also explore the influence of Venetian masters Titian and Tintoretto and will include work by Canaletto. It will also shed light on the relationship between the work of Turner and that of his contemporaries such as Richard Parkes Bonington and Samuel Prout. A further dimension is Turner's interest in literary evocations of Venice, notably those of Shakespeare and Lord Byron, which helped to shape and define his own reactions.

But the exhibition is above all devoted to Turner's own paintings and his luminous watercolours, set out as a tour of his Venice. Beginning with the monumental centre around the Doge's Palace and the Basilica of San Marco, the succeeding rooms draw the visitor deeper into the city's topography.

This sequence culminates with a series of views of the Lagoon in which the city becomes merely a component part in Turner's meditations on light, colour and the reflective surfaces of water and stone.

The Exhibition is on until the 11th of January at Tate Britain.

Sponsored by Barclays plc.


8.50 (6 concessions)

Exhibition Hours:

Daily 10.00 - 17.40, Last admission 17.00


1. Venice: the Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore, 1834
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington

2. Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti Painting exhibited 1833
Oil on mahogany
Tate. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

3. Keelmen heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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