View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Ramsgate is the third Kent subject published by Thomas Lupton in the Ports series. It is a development from a picture of the town represented on the same day and depicting the same ships entering the harbour mouth from the north in the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England series (Tate impressions T05232–T05235, T04412, T04413, T05991).1 Both of these drawings of Ramsgate are based on a study in the Richmond Hill; Hastings to Margate sketchbook of about 1816–8 (Tate D10576; Turner Bequest CXL 85). A colour study for the present drawing is dated around 1824–5 (Tate D25422; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 299).
Owing to its geographical proximity to mainland Europe, Ramsgate functioned as a chief embarkation point during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). The impenetrable stone walls of the harbour and the stolid presence of the lighthouse evoke some of this military history. The mariners struggling to control the moored ships against the intensity and velocity of the wind certainly speaks for the fortitude and resilience which came to signify British maritime prowess.
The sunken viewpoint and the zone of turbulent sea positioned between the viewer and the brig creates the sensation of being on the water itself, the viewer sharing in the dramatic tension of the scene and the churning pitch and roll of the brig. Ruskin writes that this ‘lifting of the brig on the wave is very daring; just one of the things which is seen in a gale, but which no other painter than Turner ever represented’, a comment on the artist’s intuitive interpretation of the elements.2
Eric Shanes notes that the composition is ‘artfully structured: on the left the stormy sky throws forward the lighter-toned sea and lighthouse, while on the right the effect is reversed’ by the sombre swell of the sea and precise, darkened delineation of the rigging and masts of the brig.3 The stippling technique used adds ‘both a sense of movement and textural dynamism’ to the representation of this vital, elemental scene.4 Turner’s rendering of the clouds above the brig also deserves note: the contours of the cumuli are outlined in the finest of line, their delicacy contrasting with the vessel’s rectilinear forms.