Joseph Mallord William Turner

Moonlight on the Medway

c.1824

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Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 197 x 267 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25451
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
(see main catalogue entry)
The study for another unpublished Liber Studiorum subject, The Felucca (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) is similar to the present sheet in terms of the paper and pigments used, and both appear to be whole pages from the same sketchbook, which Gillian Forrester has suggested was the dispersed ‘Munro’ book,1 watermarked 1822 and probably in use at Farnley, Yorkshire, in 1824; 2 the two compositions may have been intended as a contrasting pair in the ‘Marine’ category. The Medway and the Thames Estuary feature in other Liber subjects – The Leader Sea Piece (for drawing see Tate D08125; Turner Bequest CXVI X), and the unengraved Shipping at the Entrance of the Medway (Tate N02942).
The present composition can be compared with Turner’s Rivers of England watercolours of about the same date, showing boats on the Medway in daylight: Stangate Creek, on the River Medway (Tate D18134; Turner Bequest CCVIII A),3 The Medway (Tate D18149; Turner Bequest CCVIII P),4 and the related On the Medway (private collection),5 developed as a ‘Little Liber’ engraving (see note below). There is also an unrelated, moonlit ‘Marine’ subject among the unpublished Liber designs: Moonlight at Sea (Tate D08176; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII V).
Forrester has suggested that Turner may have been motivated by two moonlight compositions by Thomas Gainsborough ‘exhibited by artificial light’ at W.B. Cooke’s London gallery in 1824, when Turner’s works were also shown.6 The Gainsboroughs were wooded landscapes from the series of transparencies – for which he had designed a special viewing box – now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,7 the second including ‘a prominent sheet of water, ... brilliantly lit by moonlight’.8 They were said to ‘represent the effects of nature more powerfully than any picture or drawing can possibly do.’9 As Forrester also notes,10 another possible influence is John Crome’s Moonrise on the Yare (Tate N02645), which Turner may have known in the collection of his Norfolk acquaintance Dawson Turner (no relation); it also shows a river with sails and a windmill in silhouette.11
1
Forrester 1996, pp.146, 152.
2
See A.J. Finberg, ‘Turner’s Newly Identified Yorkshire Sketch-book’, Connoisseur, vol.46, October 1935, pp.185–7; Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, pp.286–7.
3
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.386 no.746, reproduced.
4
Ibid., p.386 no.749, reproduced.
5
Ibid., pp.388–9 no.765, reproduced.
6
Forrester 1996, p.152 and note 4.
7
John Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, London 1982, vol.II, respectively pp.498–9 no.134, reproduced p.498, and p.553, no.172, reproduced p.552.
8
Ibid., p.553.
9
Somerset House Gazette, vol.2, 10 April 1824, p.8, quoted in ibid., I, p.142.
10
Forrester 1996, p.152.
11
Norman L. Goldberg, John Crome the Elder, Oxford 1978, pp.185–6 no.33, pl.33.
12
Finberg 1909, II, p.839.
13
For full venues and dates see Warrell 1991, p.43.
14
The Liber Studiorum by Turner: Drawings, Etchings, and First State Mezzotint Engravings with Some Additional Engravers’ Proofs and 51 of the Original Copperplates, National Gallery, Millbank [Tate Gallery], London, November 1921–November 1922; Original Drawings, Etchings, Mezzotints, and Copperplates for the “Liber Studiorum” by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Whitworth Institute Art Galleries, Manchester, December 1922–March 1923.
15
TS list, [circa 1921], Tate exhibition files, Tate Archive TG 92/9/2, p.5.
16
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, Turner’s Liber Studiorum, A Description and a Catalogue, London 1878, p.164; ... Second Edition, Revised Throughout, London 1906, p.191.
17
Forrester 1996, p.163 (transcribed).
18
Ibid., p.151 note 2.
19
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
20
Hardie 1938, pp.65–6 no.31, reproduced p.[105] pl.XIII A.
21
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.76.
1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
2
Forrester 1996, p.146.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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