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Bathed in a radiant pale yellow light, Turner depicts the harbour of Scarborough, Yorkshire on the North Sea coast on a quiet morning. Indeed the sense of stillness evoked in this view is probably due to the fact that out of the six Ports designs originally published this is the only view ‘taken from the safety of the shoreline’.1 In the foreground a cutter is drawn up on the foreshore, its wares being unloaded into horse-drawn carts in the surf. A shrimper forages in the sands, tilting her head towards her a spotted dog looking at her eagerly. A small and pale coral coloured starfish can be seen between them; starfish becoming a curious feature of all of Turner’s Scarborough views made after 1809. The creature was probably a symbolic for Turner of a particular memory of a visit to the Scarborough beaches.2 Washerwomen are dotted at the water’s edge. Following the curve of the cove around is a number of moored vessels marking out the harbour: the focus of Scarborough’s thriving fishing industry. Beyond, atop the precipitous rocky promontory and rendered in faint wash, is St Mary’s Church and then Scarborough Castle, built by Henry II in the twelfth century.3 The fortress, which was battered by the Roundheads’ cannon in the English Civil War, lends the scene a sense of historical and picturesque grandeur, a sense accentuated by the stature of the headland. The art historians Lindsay Stainton and Richard S. Schneiderman write that it was a characteristic of Turner to depart ‘from strict topographical fact’ and to attenuate ‘the length of the headland to create the effect of a sheer cliff’.4 This is certainly apparent in the present watercolour.
For John Ruskin, the drawing was the epitome of ‘Turner’s calmness...uniting as it does the glittering of the morning clouds, and trembling of the sea, with an infinitude of peace in both’.5 He analysed the specific ways Turner achieved the atmosphere of tranquillity and harmony in Scarborough, writing: ‘Reflection and Repetition are peaceful things...observe the...doubling of every object by a visible echo or shadow throughout this picture. The grandest feature of it is the steep distant cliff; and therefore the dualism is more marked here than elsewhere; the two promontories or cliffs, and two piers below them, being arranged so that the one looks almost like the shadow of the other, cast irregularly on mist’.6 Ruskin then goes on to list where other instances of this pictorial ‘dualism’ occur, finishing his description with the affirmative: ‘and the Calm is complete’.7
Warrell 1991, p.37, no.21 reproduced.
Shanes 1990, p.130, no.102 reproduced (colour).
Bryant 1996, p.76.
Quoted in Stainton and Schneiderman 1982, p.27, no.26.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.74.
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Watercolour Explorations 1810–1842, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.100 Appendix I ‘Ports of England Series’, 101 Appendix I ‘Sea Sketches and Studies’.
Wilton 1975, p.64, no.91.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.360, nos. 527–8.
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