View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
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.
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