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Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice

Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice
oil on canvas
29 x 45 1/2 in. (73.7 x 115.6 cm.)
Painted in 1841
Charles Birch, Westfield House, Edgbaston and Metchley Abbey, Harbourne near Birmingham.
Joseph Gillott, Birmingham (acquired from the above, December 1847).
Thomas Rought, London (acquired from the above, January 1849).
Lloyd Brothers and Co., London; sale, Foster, London, 13 June 1855, lot 60 (unsold).
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1857).
Richard Hemming, Bentley Manor, Bromsgrove (acquired from the above).
Mrs. Maude Cheape (née Hemming), Bentley Manor, Bromsgrove (by descent from the above).
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1892).
Sir John Pender, Middleton Hall, County Linlithgow, Foots Cray Place, Sidcup, Kent and Arlington House, London (acquired from the above); sale, Christie's, London, 29-31 May 1897, lot 84.
J.P. Morgan, New York (acquired at the above sale, through Agnew, then by descent).
Myron Charles Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, New York (acquired from the above, circa 1947).
Wildenstein & Co. and Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1961).
Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner (acquired from the above, 1961).
Private collection (acquired from the above, 1969).
Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 16 June 1999.
J. Burnet and P. Cunningham, Turner and His Works, London, 1852, p. 119, no. 212.
W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London, 1862, vol. II, p. 229; 2nd ed., London, 1877 pp. 170, 329 and 579.
Pictures, Drawings and Sculpture Forming the Collection of Sir John Pender, London, pp. ix and 75, no. 136 (illustrated, p. 164).
"Paris Exhibition Number" in Art Journal, 1900, p. 193 (illustrated).
C.F. Bell, A List of the Works contributed to Public Exhibitions by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London, 1901, pp. 142-143, no. 228.
Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London, 1902, p. 234 (illustrated).
T. Humphrey Ward and W. Roberts, Pictures in the Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan: English School, 1907 (illustrated).
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London, vol. II, 1913, pp. 297 and 351.
A.J. Finberg, In Venice with Turner, The Cotswold Gallery, London, 1930, pp. 139 and 156; revised ed. by H.F. Finberg, 1961, pp. 383 and 506, no. 542.
J. Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London, 1969, pp. 96, 243 and 252, notes 91 and 215.
M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, vol. I, 1977, pp. 220-221, no. 393 and vol. II (illustrated, pl. 384).
A. Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Art and Life, London, 1979, p. 205.
J. Gage, ed., Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford, 1980, pp. 182-184.
E. Joll and M. Butlin, L’opera complete di Turner, 1830-1851, Milan, 1982, p. 209, no. 462 (illustrated).
J. Chapel, ‘The Turner Collector: Joseph Gillott 1799-1872’, Turner Studies, winter 1986, vol. VI, no. 2, p. 46.
L. Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, New York, 1990, p. 243.
I. Warrell, Turner and Venice, exh. cat., London, 2003, pp. 183-189 (illustrated in color, p. 189, fig. 205).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, 1841, no. 277.
Paris Exhibition, Loan Collection and Exhibits in the British Royal Pavilion, 1900, no. 39.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Modern Pictures by Living Artists, Pre-Raphaelites and Older English Masters, March-April 1901, no. 164.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and Deceased Masters of the British School, 1910, no. 167.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, An Exhibition of Paintings lent by Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, 1913-1914, pp. 12-13 (illustrated, p. 13).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Prints by J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and R.P. Bonnington, March-April 1946, pp. 10-11, no. 15.
London, Leggatt Brothers, English Painting c. 1750-1850, October-November 1963, pp. 10-11, no. 9.
London, Thomas Agnew & Sons, Paintings and Watercolours by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., November-December 1967, pp. 42-44, no. 29.
Seattle, Experience Music Project, DoubleTake: From Monet to Lichtenstein, 8 April 2006-1 January 2007.
London, Tate Britain; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Turner and the Masters, September 2009-September 2010, pp. 178-181, no. 68 (illustrated in color, p. 181).
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, no. 10 (illustrated in color).
J.T. Willmore, A.R.A., 1858.
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Lot Essay

Praised by the Art Union following its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1841 as, "A gorgeous picture; full of the highest and richest poetry" and today recognized as a masterpiece of Turner’s late career, this view of a procession of gondolas toward the sixteenth-century Redentore is the largest of the artist’s Venetian views painted after 1840. Turner’s late Venetian views represent not only a high point in the artist’s career but are defining works for the development of British art and Romantic landscape painting in general. Executed with extraordinarily bold, abstracted touches of paint that evoke atmosphere and fleeting light, these paintings equally provided a guide post for subsequent generations of artists like Claude Monet, Henri Matisse—who described Turner as "the link between tradition and Impressionism"—and Mark Rothko.
Just as Turner would come to influence later artists, so, too, was he indebted to his predecessors, whose works gave structure to even his most revolutionary paintings. From an early date, Turner sought to emulate the two greatest French landscapists of the seventeenth century: Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. As time progressed, he cast his net further afield, ultimately laying claim to the artistic inheritance of a dizzying array of artists, among them Raphael, Antoine Watteau, Anthony van Dyck, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan van Goyen, Rembrandt, even the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Turner’s rivalry with these earlier artists was often explicitly referenced in his choice of titles for works like Port Ruysdael (exhibited 1827; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven) and Watteau Study by Fresnoy’s Rules (exhibited 1831; Tate Britain, London).
In his later years, Turner’s interests turned to the work of Canaletto, the greatest of all vedutisti. Much like Canaletto, the English artist may have been drawn to Venice because, to quote Ian Warrell, "Venice offered unparalleled source material to a talented topographer with a passion for light and water" (op. cit., p. 14). However, in Turner’s hands Canaletto’s rigidly structured views of Venice are taken from a lower angle which in turn enabled the artist to revel in the ephemeral play of light and reflections. Nor did Turner share Canaletto’s penchant for temporal accuracy. His paintings seamlessly, if paradoxically, blend contemporary landmarks like the lighthouses on the harbor of San Giorgio Maggiore with more historicizing figures that recall an unspecified past.
Light-filled images of Venice represent one of the largest and most important aspects of Turner’s mature work. Between 1833 and 1846, the artist sent paintings of Venice to the annual Royal Academy exhibitions in all but two years. Venetian paintings also constituted one-third of his total output in the period (see Warrell, op. cit., p. 14). However, despite Venice’s centrality to Turner’s late career, it is notable that he spent comparatively little time in the city itself. Over the course of three visits in the years 1819, 1833 and 1840, Turner resided in Venice for fewer than four weeks, far shorter than the nearly six months he would spend in Rome.
Turner’s Italian trip of 1819 marked only the third time he had crossed the English Channel and his attention was chiefly directed at the Eternal City, where he had the opportunity to study the Roman Campagna which had previously proved to be an unerring muse for his hero, Claude. The journey lasted six months, but Turner appears to have spent little more than five days in Venice, arriving on Wednesday, 8 September, as recorded in the daily list of arrivals by the Gazzetta Privilegiata di Venezia. Despite his relatively brief stay, Turner filled four sketchbooks with roughly one hundred and sixty pages of pencil sketches, many with multiple sketches to a page, and produced a small series of extraordinary watercolor studies that captured the unique quality of Venetian light. He transcribed all the major sites—the buildings around the Piazza and Bacino di San Marco, the Arsenale and a number of views from the Grand Canal around the Rialto Bridge—as well as many of the principal works of art in the city’s churches, Accademia, Doge’s Palace and Palazzo Barbarigo. Rather surprisingly, these sketches and watercolors did not materialize into fully realized oil paintings upon his return to England. Only one canvas, a large, unfinished view of the Rialto Bridge (Tate Britain, London) possibly intended as a pendant to his Rome from the Vatican (Tate Britain, London), is known from the period that immediately followed this journey.
Over the course of the 1830s, Turner began to depict Venetian views in oil in earnest, perhaps in competition with contemporaries like Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828), whom Turner greatly admired and who had earlier discovered Venice’s potential as a motif in painting. Even before the 1833 Royal Academy exhibition (in which Turner showed two Venetian views) had closed, the painter was again on his way to Venice, with the Gazzetta Privilegiata indicating his arrival on 9 September of that year. He appears to have spent little over a week in the city, his trip having been funded by his patron Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar (1797-1864) with the understanding that Turner would complete for Munro a watercolor of Venice to cover the expenses. Turner concentrated much of his second trip on parts of the city that had previously remained foreign to him—the eastern district of Castello; the churches of San Pietro, San Marco, Santa Giustina and Santa Maria Formosa and the waterfront of the Fondamente Nuove. These and other sites were recorded in some two hundred sheets of sketches distributed across three sketchbooks.
Turner’s final visit to Venice took place in the late summer of 1840 and may have been precipitated by his recognition of the commercial prospects of Venetian subjects. The Gazzetta Privilegiata records his arrival on Thursday, August 20, and he remained in the city until Thursday, September 3, when he departed for Trieste. As he had on previous visits, Turner focused much of his attention on the waters of the Bacino and the Grand Canal, where he paid particular attention to the wide Giudecca Canal. These locations filled roughly two hundred sketchbook sheets and, crucially, as many as one hundred and fifty watercolors. Several of these would become starting points for his finished oils of the 1840s.
The canvases that resulted from his second and third visits were among Turner’s most commercially successful subjects, with roughly half of them finding buyers immediately after their exhibition. Unlike so many of his later works, the Venetian views equally enjoyed critical acclaim. In its 1 June 1842 issue, the Art Union even proclaimed that "Venice was surely built to be painted by Canaletto and Turner…The Venetian pictures are now among the best this artist paints."
Turner’s Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice is one of three Venetian subjects, all views in or from the Giudecca Canal, which Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1841. The others included his Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio (Private collection), which sold at Christie’s, New York, 5 April 2006, lot 97 for $35,856,000, then a world auction record for the artist, and View of Venice: The Ducal Palace, Dogana and Part of San Giorgio (Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio).
The present painting is unique within Turner’s later Venetian subjects: after 1840, Turner employed a standard canvas measuring roughly 62 x 92 cm, with the present painting the only Venetian painting of this period executed on a larger scale. It is also the only Venetian view exhibited in 1841 whose subject is not pure landscape. As Butlin and Joll noted in their 1977 entry on the painting, through the ostensibly historical subject "Turner was probably depicting an imaginary scene rather than recording an historical event, even allowing for the way Turner was wont to transform such events by imposing his own version on them. His intention was presumably, as on other occasions, to pay tribute to a revered Old Master" (loc. cit.). Ian Warrell has similarly pointed out that Turner is likely to have imagined this event and associated it with the traditional festivities of the church marked by building a floating processional route across the Giudecca Canal each July. Canaletto had likewise previously depicted this event in a painting (Constable and Links 1976, no. 644).
The three paintings visible in the leading gondolas have been tentatively identified as works from the Sacristy of the Redentore, which were in Turner’s time believed to be by Giovanni Bellini. None of the pictures in the Sacristy are thought to be by Bellini today, but at least four of the Madonnas suggest the influence of the Venetian master. These include paintings now variously given to Alvise Vivarini, Francesco Bissolo, Lazzaro Bastiani and Rocco Marconi. The paintings in Turner’s canvas are handled on such a small scale so as to make it impossible to identify them with certitude. However, Turner’s contemporary interest in the early Renaissance was very much in keeping with current trends in which there was growing esteem for Italian artists of the fifteenth century.
Despite having been painted in Turner’s London studio in early 1841, the present painting and the other two exhibited in that year each radiates the unique qualities of Italian light. They are also testament to Turner’s newfound interest in the Giudecca’s wide span of water. Turner completed a series of watercolors, including some on gray paper—ideal for use in bright Italian light due to its less reflective surface and flat tone—of this part of Venice while visiting the city in 1840. One such essentially monochrome sheet appears to have served as a model for this painting (Tate Britain, London). Both drawing and painting view the Redentore, a Palladian church built in thanksgiving to God following the end of an outbreak of the plague that decimated Venice in 1575-76, from the west. Though less evident in the watercolor, in the painting a number of Venice’s principal monuments, including the churches of Santa Maria della Salute and La Zitelle, appear in the middle distance.
Like many of Turner’s Venetian views, the painting was generally well received by contemporary critics. On 5 June 1841, the Atheneum approvingly wrote that it was "so much less extravagant than his late Turnerisms," while a little over a month earlier The Times described it as "a finely painted picture, full of crotchety colouring, but grand." The Spectator on 8 May referred to it as "a pageant of painting," while the greatest praise came from the Art Union, as quoted above. Only Turner’s traditional nemesis, Blackwood’s Magazine, could find anything negative to say, noting with typical rhetorical flourish in their September issue that it "could only please a child whose taste is for gilt gingerbread."
The painting appears to have enjoyed something of a similar appeal among the buying public. While on exhibition, a "Mr. Collard" must have considered purchasing it (see Finberg, loc. cit.). Turner had evidently initially quoted his would-be patron—whether by accident or design—a lower price but returned by saying the price was, in fact, 350 guineas, exclusive of copyright or permission to engrave (shortly after Turner’s death, just such an engraving was commissioned by the London printers Lloyd Brothers and Co. from the engraver James Tibbetts Willmore). It is not known whether Mr. Collard purchased the painting in the end, though no connection between him and the painting’s first known owner, Charles Birch, is known.
Commentators have often noted how the final phase of Turner’s career was supported in large part by new patrons who were generally self-made men. Charles Birch, who made his fortune from coal mines, was no different. A discerning collector of contemporary British paintings, Birch came to own no fewer than eleven paintings by Turner, including such masterpieces as The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834 (c. 1834-35; Philadelphia Museum of Art), The Grand Canal: Scene – a Street in Venice (c. 1837; The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA), Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water (1840; Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA) and Approach to Venice (1844; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Birch possessed equally important works by Sir David Wilkie, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer and John Constable, including the latter’s The Opening of Waterloo Bridge (Tate Britain, London), The Leaping Horse (Royal Academy, London) and the Foster version of The Lock (sold Sotheby’s, London, 9 December 2015, lot 44).
Owing to the vagaries of the coal trade, Birch was compelled to sell works from his collection at various points in the 1840s and 1850s. A number of pictures were disposed of in a sale held by Foster and Son on 15 February 1855, among them The Lock, which achieved £903, an auction record for the artist that would remain unbroken for more than a decade. In December 1847 Birch sold the present painting to his good friend and neighbor in Edgbaston, the celebrated collector Joseph Gillott. Having made his money through machine manufacturing of steel pens, Gillott—like Birch—was a man whose wealth he owed to industry. And, much like Birch, Gillott took a particular shining to Turner’s art. But unlike Birch, whose focus was on Turner’s late career, Gillot’s appetite for the artist was omnivorous. His collection included late works like the present painting and Turner’s Calais Sands (1830; Bury Art Museum) alongside early paintings like The Junction of the Thames and the Medway of 1807 (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
The particular appeal of Turner’s Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice among titans of industry in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries—indeed, down to the present day—is evident by the names of its subsequent owners. By the end of the nineteenth century, the painting had been acquired by Sir John Pender, who struck it rich laying transcontinental submarine cables for the telegraph. At his 1897 posthumous sale, the painting was acquired by Agnew’s on behalf of the American financier and benefactor J.P. Morgan, in whose family it descended until the middle of the twentieth century. The painting was then acquired by the industrialist Myron Charles Taylor, then the chief executive of U.S. Steel. It is only fitting that the painting’s current owner’s achievements in the realm of technology and philanthropy continue this august history.

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