Joseph Mallord William Turner Harbour with Vessels, possibly Portsmouth c.1822–3

Artwork details

Harbour with Vessels, possibly Portsmouth
From Ports of England Sketchbook
Turner Bequest CCII
Date c.1822–3
Medium Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 257 x 178 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCII 6
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

In this marine view Turner has depicted a harbour bathed in a radiant dawn light. Vessels are anchored at left and right, signalled by their masts rendered in fine vertical lines of differing heights extending into the sky. A stretch of arched breakwater marks the end of the harbour. A brig can be seen beyond it, summarily delineated in faint pencil. An arched breakwater is also a feature of the Ports of England Portsmouth design and its preparatory colour study (Tate D18152, D17758; Turner Bequest CCVIII S, CCIII A). It can be seen at the far left side of the middle register in both drawings.
The sky is filled with pale yellow wash which gently diffuses into blue. In swift strokes Turner suggests the diagonal trajectory of rays of blue sunlight. The vessels are rendered with a dilute rust pigment which feathers into the preliminary layer of grey wash. Turner appears to have dragged a drying brush in downward sweeps towards the bottom of the sheet at the left, leaving the pools of rust coloured wash to migrate and bleed at the right. In all, the drawing demonstrates the artist’s pleasure in the evocative possibilities of this fluid medium.
The composition recalls Claudian harbour scenes: shipping and light craft flanking the sides of the view and exposing a central focal point illuminated by sunlight (compare, for example, Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheeba, 16481 with Turner’s colour study for A Classical Harbour in the Study for Pictures: Isleworth Sketchbook (Tate D05568; Turner Bequest XC 49a)). Similar compositions in the Rivers of England series can be found in Stangate Creek, on the River Medway (Tate D18134; Turner Bequest CCVIII A), or the nocturne Shields, on the River Tyne (Tate D18155; Turner Bequest CCVIII V). The light and palette of this colour sketch and the linear parade of masts within the harbour is somewhat similar to the finished watercolour of Scarborough in the Ports series (Tate D18142; Turner Bequest CCVIII I).
A reproduction of this painting is in Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012, p.90, no.20 (colour).
Inscribed in pencil ‘CCII–6’ bottom centre and again in another hand bottom right towards the gutter

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

About this artwork