Joseph Mallord William Turner

Scene on the French Coast

c.1806–7

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink, graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 332 x 420 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08104
Turner Bequest CXVI C

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, published J.M.W. Turner, ?11 June 1807
The Liber Studiorum plate derived from the present drawing, the first to be published in Turner’s ‘Marine’ category, was untitled; the longstanding identification of the subject as a view of Flint Castle in North Wales appears to have originated with John Ruskin’s passing reference in The Harbours of England (1856),1 and the idea of the men as smugglers was also probably his.2 The profile of the castle does not match the one inscribed ‘Flint’ a few years earlier in Turner’s Dolbadarn sketchbook (Tate D02140; Turner Bequest XLVI 99). Finberg noted the earlier, variant titles relating to Flint in his catalogues3 but adopted the present wording from Turner’s own checklists (see below), though the Welsh connection has occasionally been made again since.4 The link seems to have originated by visual comparison with Turner’s 1830s views of Flint, both showing a distant, low castle on the coast with various beached boats, figures and horses (watercolours: National Museum Wales and private collection).5 Extrapolating from Finberg’s French identification, the distant building has been said to be the castle of Wimereux6 between Boulogne and Calais, although there are no identified sketches of the site dating from before the Liber; Turner introduced three slight pencil variations in the border below the design showing a skyline of sails and piers which Nicholas Alfrey has identified as Calais itself.7
However, such specific topographical speculation may be redundant, since in etching the design for the Liber Turner copied it straight onto the copper plate and the printed image was thus in reverse of the drawing, whereas he took care to account for this fundamental transposition in other plates when the location was intended to be identifiable.8 Again, in terms of the occupation of the men in the foreground, ‘there seems to be no definite pictorial evidence’9 of smuggling, and indeed Rawlinson declared that the ‘“riding officer” of the revenue ... will be observed superintending the landing of the stores from the boats.’10 Paul Spencer-Longhurst has noted compositional points in common with Turner’s painting The Sun Rising through Vapour (Barber Institute, Birmingham),11 possibly exhibited in 1809.
1
Cook and Wedderburn XIII 1904, p.41.
2
Ibid., p.609 (editors’ note).
3
Finberg 1909, I, p.315; 1924, p.13.
4
See Evelyn Joll in Gage, Ziff, Alfrey and others 1983, p.264; and Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.41 no.33.
5
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, respectively p.401 no.868 and pp.403–4 no.885, both reproduced.
6
Wilton 1975, p.40.
7
Herrmann 1990, pp.35, 254 note 42.
8
See Forrester 1996, p.50.
9
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.41.
10
Rawlinson 1906, p.17.
11
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.68–9 no.95, pl.103; see Spencer-Longhurst 2003, p.49.
12
Finberg 1910, p.75; see also Finberg 1961, p.130.
13
Finberg 1910, p.76; see also Herrmann 1990, pp.35, 38.
14
Finberg 1910, p.76.
15
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
16
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
17
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
18
Finberg 1924, p.xxxii; Forrester 1996, p.12.
19
Rawlinson 1878, pp.9–19; 1906, pp.12–23; Finberg 1924, pp.5–24.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

1
Forrester 1996, p.50 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
3
Forrester 1996, p.15.

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