Joseph Mallord William Turner

At Chatham, on the River Medway

c.1821

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 112 x 190 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D17402
Turner Bequest CXCIX 22

Catalogue entry

Made with the page inverted relative to the foliation of the sketchbook, this drawing describes a view of Chatham from a boat in the River Medway, as identified by Finberg.1 At far right, the sketch crosses the gutter and continues briefly onto the facing page, folio 21 verso (D17401).
Turner looks north east towards the Great Lines above Chatham, visible here slightly towards the left. They mark the otherwise largely blank expanse of hillside with a distinctive, angular wound. The view describes the opposite perspective to the one represented in the watercolour Chatham, from Fort Pitt of about 1830 (private collection)2 engraved in 1832 as part of the ambitious Picturesque Views in England and Wales project of the 1820s and 1830s (Tate impressions: T04588–T04589, T05089). The tower of the Royal Dockyard Church, visible at far left in the watercolour and engraving, seems apparent at far right in this sketch. A darkly shaded shape, presumably a tree, is evident to the right of the church. The same arrangement is recorded in the top drawing on the facing page, folio 21 verso (D17401), although the distance between the two forms is somewhat further. The foreground of the present sketch is dedicated to detailed drawings of a wide variety of vessels. These range from a stout hulk at left, to a pair of light craft indicated at far right, with the interlinking space populated by what are probably ships of the line.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Royal Dockyards at Chatham had become one of the largest industrial organisations globally, boasting advanced facilities and an enormous, skilled workforce.3 Shortly before Turner recorded his impressions of Chatham in the current sketchbook, great plans for further development had begun to be put into action. The southern end of the Dockyard was modernised, with the installation of a new Double Ropehouse, the great Anchor Wharf Storehouses, and Edward Holl’s Lead and Paint Mill in 1817.4 Close to the centre of the site, Holl also constructed the Royal Dockyard Church evident on this page.5 Elsewhere, a steam powered Saw Mill was erected, ‘one of Britain’s earliest mechanical saw mills and the first use of steam at Chatham’.6 The year 1820 saw the building of Chatham’s first stone dry dock, and engine house for a steam-powered dock pump.7

Maud Whatley
January 2016

1
Finberg 1909, I, p.608.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.398 no.838.
3
‘Royal Dockyards’, accessed 31 December 2015, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, http://www.thedockyard.co.uk/history-and-buildings/dockyards-history/royal-dockyards/.
4
‘Mechanisation and Industrialisation (1780-1832)’, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed 31 December 2015, http://www.thedockyard.co.uk/history-and-buildings/dockyards-history/mechanisation-industrialisation/.
5
Ibid.
6
Ibid.
7
Ibid.
8
Wilton 1979, p.402 no.877.

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