Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Ship of the Line


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 x 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 82

Catalogue entry

As identified by Finberg, on this page Turner records the architecture of a ship of the line.1 Perhaps observing the scene at anchor near Chatham Dockyard, a location frequently described within this book, Turner records narrative elaboration alongside the technical. A small rowing boat at centre collects or deposits anonymous passengers at the foot of a ladder leading up to the top deck. The figures demonstrate the scale of the vessel, their slight appearance emphasising its towering height.
Indeed, the boat is so tall that Turner is forced to abbreviate the foremast and mainmast. He abandons the central sections, sketching only the topgallant masts in order to record their relationship with the shorter mizzenmast shown almost in full at right. The result is that, in each instance, a top platform is illustrated, positioned between two yards along which the sails are neatly furled.
The length of the bowsprit at left is extended with a jib boom and flying jib boom, both of which are named in Turner’s adjacent inscriptions. The hull is lined with rows of open gun ports, several of which are inscribed with numbers. The guns themselves are evident inside the bottom row of ports, at left towards the bow of the ship.
The stern is finely picked out, the gallery windows carefully described above a small portion of the rudder. A spanker sail is secured above the stern, fixed to a boom at its foot which overhangs the end of the vessel.
Finberg 1909, I, p.609.
Technical notes:
The paper is marked with dark, grey blotches in places.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

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