Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Mountainous Coast with a Stranded Vessel or Whale, Possibly at Penmaenmawr or in North-East England


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 371 x 551 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 32

Catalogue entry

Andrew Wilton suggests that the two pencil circles below the cliffs in this colour study might indicate the position of Turner’s ‘stranded vessel’, speculating that the scene may recall Land’s End (see the 1811 Cornwall and Devon sketchbook; Tate; Turner Bequest CXXV a), or possibly the coast of Durham or Northumberland, visited in 1817 (see the relevant section of the present catalogue) given that this composition was once attached to a Durham view,1 as described in the technical notes. There is a slight pencil outline on the horizon, apparently representing a further range of cliffs with a tower on the skyline, with some criss-cross pencil marks to the left which may indicate further landscape features or shipping.
Eric Shanes has suggested that this is a study for the mountainous North Wales background of the watercolour Penmaen-Mawr, Caernarvonshire of about 1832 (British Museum, London),2 engraved in 1832 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04601, T06107);3 the similarity appears rather generic, with both showing a precipitous coast on the right in stormy conditions, and there is no sign here of the curving coastal road and bank of earth in the foreground of the finished watercolour. The 1799 drawing in the Dolbadarn sketchbook (Tate D02130; Turner Bequest XLVI 90a) on which the latter appears to be based is itself slight, and it is possible that the present work was an intermediate step in developing the Penmaenmawr subject so many years after Turner’s visit.
Shanes also offers an alternative reading of Turner’s inscription as ‘stranded whale’, linking it potentially to the watercolour The Whale on Shore of about 1837 (Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio),4 a work in imaginative, illustrative mode but not linked to a particular publishing project.5 Again, the connection is in terms of a rocky, stormy coast beyond a bay, populated in this design by dozens of small figures, dwarfed by the thrashing whale’s tail rearing up against the rocks in the middle distance in the equivalent space occupied by the two pencil circles in the present work.
Wilton 1975, p.50; see also Wilton 1980, pp.147, 149.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.400 no.852, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, pp.27, 95, 104.
Wilton 1979, p.457 no.1307, reproduced, as ‘The Great Whale’.
Shanes 1997, pp.99, 104.
Bower 1990, p.125 and note 5; see also Perkins 1990, p.33, and Shanes 1997, pp.31, 94, 95, 100.
Wilton 1975, p.50.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

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