Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Storm (Shipwreck)

c.1822–3

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Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 482 x 680 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25501
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 377

Catalogue entry

As previously recognised,1 this large ‘colour beginning’ is one of three (see also Tate D25494, D25503; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 371, 379) painted in combinations of yellow ochre and blue on uniform sheets of 1822 Whatman paper which relate to the watercolour now customarily known as A Storm (Shipwreck) (British Museum, London);2 it was exhibited at the publisher and engraver W.B. Cooke’s gallery in 1823 (no number, added during the course of the exhibition as ‘Shipwreck’,3 but advertised as ‘A Storm’4), and related to Cooke’s short-lived Marine Views print project (see the Introduction to this section). As Eric Shanes has put it, Turner used the three variant studies to ‘set out the pictorial dynamics that would flood through the most violently tempestuous seascape ever created in watercolour’5
Ian Warrell has suggested that the subject may have been inspired in part by Turner’s sea voyage up the East Coast of England and Scotland to Edinburgh in August 1822 (see Thomas Ardill’s ‘George IV’s visit to Edinburgh 1822’ section of this catalogue), during which he made many drawings of the coast, including the very rugged stretch around Dunbar Castle in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13617–D13624; Turner Bequest CLXVII 18a–23).6 The apocalyptic finished design recalls earlier works such as the painting The Wreck of a Transport Ship, of 1810 (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon)7 and the watercolour The Loss of an East Indiaman, c.1818 (The Higgins, Bedford),8 both featuring figures in desperate straits on the steeply tilting decks of foundering vessels; see under Tate D17178 (Turner Bequest CXCVI N) for the latter, as well as being reminiscent in early, dramatic exercises in the manner of Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812), such as A Rocky Shore, with Men Attempting to Rescue a Storm-Tossed Boat of 1792–3 (Tate D00392; Turner Bequest XXIII R).
Of the three studies noted initially, this is the most vividly coloured, and the warm blue is unusually saturated. The rough ochre shape at the centre appears to combine the sloping deck of the sinking ship in the middle distance with the rock buffeted by ferocious waves in the foreground of the finished design, where their spatial relationship is clarified by placing them respectively in sunlight and relative shade. There is a loose indication of a tilting, broken mast towards the left which also has its equivalent in the completed work, where the looming pyramidal form at the centre here would be softened by a virtuoso representation of spume and sea spray.
1
See Wilton 1979, p.358, Warrell 1991, p.29, Shanes 1997, pp.28, 99, and Sloan 1998, p.86.
2
Wilton 1979, p.358 no.508, as ‘The storm’, reproduced; Shanes 1997, pp.28, 99 and Sloan 1998, p.86 no.25, under the title used here.
3
Finberg 1961, p.485 no.287.
4
See Shanes 1990, pp.12, 281 note 48.
5
Shanes 1997, p.28.
6
See Warrell 1991, p.29.
7
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.128–9 no.210, pl.213 (colour).
8
Wilton 1979, p.357, as ‘Loss of a man-of-war’.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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