View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This drawing is a preparatory colour study for Portsmouth in the Ports of England series (Tate D18152; Turner Bequest CCVIII S). The rectilinear profile of the Admiralty Semaphore towers can be seen with the cupola crowning a tower on the right. The dilute red used to highlight these buildings remains in the final design.
At sea, a man-of-war has been roughly sketched out in pencil and grey wash. In comparison to the finished design where the vessel dominates the view, it is here much diminished in scale. A cutter has been marked out loosely on the left, conspicuous by the curving sweep of its diagonally pitched sail. In the final design the cutter is smaller in size and positioned in front of the Semaphore at the right. Significantly less of the harbour can be seen in this study.
The murky green-grey of the sea in the foreground, which turns to blue as the view recedes, is preserved in the finished design. Less attention has been paid here to rendering wave formations; rather the purpose of this preliminary work is to experiment with colour and tone, to produce, as Ian Warrell writes, a ‘diagrammatic colour structure’ and to clarify the relationship between parts of the composition to the whole.1
The sky is loosely filled in with daubs and dry strokes of blue wash; the same elliptically shaped puff of cumuli drawing attention to the key compositional feature of man-of-war appears in both preliminary and finished designs.
Warrell 1991, p.35, no.18 reproduced.