View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Here Turner depicts a steamer packet at sea, perhaps recently departed from a berth at Folkestone harbour. By 1845 the vessels ‘regularly plied their trade from the port’ operating chartered crossings to Boulogne, France.1 With vigorous handling, Turner has rendered the Channel and sombre sky to full effect in washes of grey pigment. The foreground has been left unpainted in parts and is lightly streaked with the palest of wash in others. A pier suggested at the left in brown and red paint applied with quick, dry strokes. Beyond, the profile of the steamer has been rendered in dark slate grey heightened with red, lending it a rusted industrial character. Puffs of steam emit from the funnel, leaving wispy trails behind.
According to art historian William Rodner, steamers were ‘essential elements’ in Turner’s works in the 1830s and early 1840s. The steamer’s role in the emergence of the industrial revolution occupied Turner. He explored, through drawing and watercolour, ‘their mechanical energies and ... their relationship to the early nineteenth-century milieu, which witnessed the dramatic growth and popularity of steam navigation’.2 Steamer packets are represented elsewhere in the sketchbook, on folios 3, 18, and 22 recto (D35364, D35380, D35384).
Some of the watercolour continues onto the opposite page.