Turner expert's new view of Venice

The new title of the luminous canvas by Turner is, frankly, slightly cumbersome. The picture is now: The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth 8 October 1844 (circa) 1844-5, formerly listed as Festive Lagoon Scene Venice c 1840-5.

If Turner expert Ian Warrell is right those dark shapes in the smoky gold light are not glamourous revellers, jaded with the pleasures of the most beautiful and decadent city in the world, being ferried home at dawn across the Venetian lagoon. They’re a bevy of Portsmouth councillors, local dignitaries, layabouts, rubberneckers and riffraff, setting out in a little Armada across the harbour to meet the King of France, Louis-Philippe.

If Mr Warrell’s identification, overturning 35 years of Turner scholarship, is correct, the smoky air is no mere artistic licence. Apart from great clouds of smoke from the royal paddle steamer, contemporary newspaper accounts record that “the Queen’s guns were repeatedly fired”, causing a fog across the anchorage which must have made it virtually impossible for the thousands of sightseers along the shore – that faint line of shimmery blobs – to see anything at all of the jollifications.

The companion painting has also had to be re-titled, so the Procession of Boats with Distant Smoke, Venice has become The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth.

The paintings came as part of Turner’s gigantic bequest to the nation of everything in his studio when he died – hundreds of canvases, thousands of watercolours and drawings. One of the paintings was part of a cache rediscovered by Kenneth Clark in the National Gallery’s basement during the second world war.

They were only given their Venetian titles for a famous exhibition in New York in 1966, curated by Lawrence Gowring. Some were clearly of Venice, including the unmistakable outline of the famous baroque church Santa Maria della Salute.

However, Mr Warrell is now convinced that these two larger canvases are closer to home.

Crucially, one of them shows a line of soldiers in red uniforms. “These English troops are clearly an anomaly in a Venetian subject,” Mr Warrell says.

The Victorian newspaper accounts specifically mention the scarlet-uniformed troops sent out to welcome the French king, “disposed in two lines, each three deep”.

Turner’s own letters confirm that he was in Portsmouth for the king’s arrival, and that he had sketched the scene. The king was anxious to follow up an earlier friendly meeting, and cement an alliance with Queen Victoria. The painter had known him, years earlier, when the prince was in exile among the French court in Twickenham, as refugees from revolutionary Paris.

In 1838 Louis-Philippe gave the artist a diamond-studded gold snuff box in return for a copy of his Picturesque Views in England and Wales.

Despite the re-attribution the paintings will be included in the exhibition on Turner and Venice, opening next month at Tate Britain.

“They’ve been part of the debate on Turner and Venice for so long, it would be quite wrong to exclude them. And this is only an attribution – we’d like to invite the public to make up their own minds,” a Tate Britain spokesman said.

· Tate Britain Turner and Venice, October 9-January 11

A tale of two cities, in different worlds

Venice

· Famous for its 150 canals, 409 bridges and romantic alleys. Built on an archipelago of 117 islands. One of the world’s most beautiful cities

· Famous sons include the painters Titian, Tintoretto and Canaletto, the adventurer Giacomo Casanova and the explorer Marco Polo

· Sights include St Mark’s Square, Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace and the Accademia

· Immortalised in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

· In February the three-week carnival takes place, with masked balls, banquets and all night parties

Portsmouth

· Began as a south-coast Saxon fishing village, but grew to become the home of the Royal Navy

· Famous sons include Charles Dickens, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and former prime minister Jim Callaghan.

· Local attractions include Mary Rose and HMS Victory.

· In 1585 Sir Walter Raleigh first brought tobacco and potatoes to Britain here. In 1787 the first convicts left for Australia

· Portsmouth FC – aka Pompey – was founded in 1898 and promoted to the Premiership last season. Arthur Conan Doyle was a founder member and sometime goalkeeper

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Published in: on September 24, 2003 at 1:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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