Catalogue entry

87. [N00496] Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide setting in Exh. 1809

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (496)
Canvas, 35 × 47 (89 × 119·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (11, ‘Bligh Sands’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1809 (7); Turner's gallery 1810 (4, ‘Blyth Sand’); R.A. 1815 (6, ‘Bligh Sand, near Sheerness: Fishing boats trawling’); Plymouth 1815; Tate Gallery 1931 (39); Amsterdam (repr.), Berne (repr.), Paris, Brussels (repr.), Liege (repr.) (15), Venice and Rome (17) 1947–8; R.A. 1974–5 (155, repr.); Paris 1983–4 (24, repr.).

Lit. Ruskin 1857 (1903–12, xiii, p. 123); Thornbury 1862, i, pp. 179, 297; ii, p. 155, 173; 1877, pp. 304, 317, 432; Bell 1901, p. 95 no. 132; Armstrong 1902, p. 229; Davies 1946, p. 185; H. F. Finberg 1951, p. 384; Finberg 1961, pp. 157, 172, 218–19, 229, 470 no. 134, 476 no. 187, 512 no. 157d; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 30, pl. 44; Lindsay 1966, p. 108; Gage 1980, p. 44.

Blyth Sands are in the Thames Estuary above Sheerness, facing Canvey Island. There is a related oil sketch among the large Thames sketches (No. 176 [N02698]) but with no precise details in common. There is also a wash drawing at the British Museum, closer in the placing of the nearest sailing boat but again not exactly the same (CXX-Q).

The picture is one of the four mentioned, presumably as available for sale, in a letter to Sir John Leicester of 12 December 1810, accompanied by slight pen sketches (see Plate 203). According to Thornbury Turner also had ‘the proud pleasure of refusing to sell’ this picture ‘to his old enemy Sir John [sic for George] Beaumont’ (1862, i, p. 297). For the evidence that this picture was sent for exhibition in Plymouth late in 1815 see No. 19 [N00471].

Also according to Thornbury, ‘An artist who professionally examined the picture for me tells me that the sky was painted with perishable sugar of lead, and has quite altered’ (1862, i, p. 297). No evidence for this statement remains today. The canvas has been torn in five places, the most serious and extensive damage running down from the centre of the foreground boat almost to the lower edge of the picture; these tears have now been restored. This damage is presumably explained, as Evelyn Joll has suggested (exh. cat., Paris 1983–4), by Thornbury's story of Turner having used the picture as a cat door.


Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984