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The present drawing relates closely to the oil painting exhibited at Turner’s gallery in 1809 as Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In (Tate N00496),1 again in 1810 as Blyth Sand, and at the Royal Academy in 1815 as Bligh Sand, near Sheerness: Fishing Boats Trawling; the feature, on the southern shore of the Thames Estuary between Gravesend and Sheerness, is now generally known as ‘Blyth Sands’. The use of brown watercolour washes and limited tonal range suggest Turner was considering adapting the composition as a ‘Marine’ subject for the Liber Studiorum; it may have been rejected as too similar to the design known as The Leader Sea Piece (for drawing see Tate D08125; Turner Bequest CXVI X).
As Andrew Wilton has noted, Turner simplified the composition to ‘a scheme of broad tones focused on the sharp contrast of the two sails on the left’2 to which detail would have been introduced at a later stage. The corresponding details, not just of the boats but also the clouds (though brought lower to just above the tip of the mast) and areas of the foreground which relate closely to tonal divisions in the painting, appear to indicate that Turner made a freehand transcription directly from the oil, rather than re-developing the subject from memory or sketches. 1809, the date of the oil’s first exhibition, is here suggested for the present work too, since Turner had been working on new and adapted designs for the Liber Studiorum since 1806. However, as the painting remained in Turner’s possession he would have remained free to consult it, so a later date is possible since publication of the Liber continued until 1819.
The work was catalogued by Finberg in a grouping of monochrome studies,1 but has been identified as originating in the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV),2 other sheets of which bear the same watermark. Stitching holes are apparent where the sheet was roughly trimmed on the left, but it is not possible to establish its original location in the book by matching it to the stubs that remain there. Comparison with the remaining pages shows that it was also trimmed on the right (using a straight edge) by about an inch (25 mm).