View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
The only attempt at a topographical identification of this subject has been by Eric Shanes, who proposed that it shows the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour with the Gosport blockhouse on the right and the Isle of Wight across the Solent in the distance to the south, giving a pencil sketch in the London Bridge and Portsmouth sketchbook of around 1824 as the source (Tate D17920; Turner Bequest CCVI 4a).1 The subject is unconfirmed, and any similarity to the minuscule coastal profile on that page may well be fortuitous.
The structure here seems more like a somewhat ramshackle wooden pier that Gosport’s substantial stone battery, shown from the sea in the watercolours Portsmouth, of about 1824 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight),2 engraved in 1825 for Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Tate impressions: T04419, T05302–T05304, T05994), Portsmouth, of about 1824–5 (Tate D18152; Turner Bequest CCVIII S),3 engraved in 1828 for The Ports of England (Tate impressions: T04833, T04834), and Gosport, Entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, of about 1829 (Portsmouth Museums and Records),4 engraved in 1831 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04574, T04575).
It is unclear whether the layered, somewhat uneven blue horizon represents the open sea, hills enclosing water, or a band of cloud. Finberg defined the subject as ‘Lake, with pier’,5 perhaps in connection with Turner’s annual Swiss tours of the early 1840s. A rain storm seems to be moving in or easing off, apparently with a smoking steamer just clear of it against the glowing sky; the sense of openness perhaps favours a scene off the South Coast of England rather than a mountain lake. Compare some strongly coloured studies including loosely defined harbour structures in the 1845 Ideas of Folkestone sketchbook (Tate D35363–D35369; Turner Bequest CCCLVI 3–9).
Blank; slight splashes of blue watercolour. Inscribed in pencil ‘84’ at centre; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCLXIV – 203’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘D36048’ bottom right.