Venice, the Bridge of Sighs by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Exhibited 1840. Oil on canvas, 686 x 914 mm. Courtesy of Tate Britain. (Accession no. N00527 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856.) Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary from Tate Britain Online

One of the most famous landmarks in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge’s Palace on the left with the prisons of the Palazzo dei Prigioni to the right. Exhibited in 1840 with the following lines based on Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto iv, verse I:

‘I stood upon a bridge, a palace
A prison on each hand.’—Byron

In Byron's original text the lines read,

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand.

The lines show that Turner saw even the beauties of Venice as a sham, concealing the grim realities on which her departed glories had depended. Most of the critics of the 1840 R.A. exhibition were so shattered by Turner's other contributions that they failed to mention the two Venetian scenes, this picture and the Venice from the Canale della Giudecca, Chiesa di S Maria della Salute, &c (No. 384). Even the critic of the Spectator, who did notice them on 16 May, could not forbear to include them in his general condemnation of ‘mere freaks of chromomania’, the Venetian pictures being included with their ‘sundry patches of white and nankeen, with a bundle of gayer colours... intended to represent buildings and vessels’.

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Butlin, Martin, and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner. revised ed.. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984.

Last modified 16 May 2016