Joseph Mallord William Turner

Storm at Sea


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 196 x 275 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 251

Catalogue entry

This sheet was once part of a larger one, later divided into four,1 each quarter of which Turner worked on in watercolour. In relation to the others, the composition was originally at top right (inverted) with an interior (Tate D08109; Turner Bequest CXVI H) to its left. The lower quarters comprised two Liber Studiorum-style, brown wash landscape studies, Tate D08108 (Turner Bequest CXVI G) – on the verso in relation to the other three – and Tate D08222 (Turner Bequest CXX I); there is no overlap of washes between the two lower quarters and those above, implying that half of the sheet was separated and halved again before work commenced. Apparently, the present work and the interior were begun while still joined, as the dark wash forming the sea here continued as the ceiling in the latter (although there is a slight vertical break in the wash at the bottom right, possibly due to a fold between them). When the two were separated, they were left uneven, with a jagged matching edge at one corner.
This sheet and D08222 (CXX I) share the single watermark ‘Whatman | Turkey Mills | 1822’. The other quarters were listed in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory in his first grouping of Liber drawings (D08108 and D08109; CXVI G, H), dated to circa 1806–10,2 and in a miscellaneous section as circa 1802–10 (D08222; CXX I),3 while the present work, with the ‘22’ of the watermark visible, was placed among the ‘Colour Beginnings’ of 1820–30.4
No pencil work is apparent beneath the heavy washes and fluid washing-out. There appear to be at least main two washes, of grey and umber. There are extensive finger prints above the wave or rock and in the lightest cloud at the top centre.
As Gillian Forrester notes, such works ‘may be ideas for pure mezzotint’ or ‘may not have been made with print-making in mind at all.’5 If there is a direct connection between any of these works and the Liber, it is possible that they date to circa 1824, around the time Turner was working on other unpublished designs, such as The Felucca (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) and Moonlight on the Medway (Tate D25451; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328). There are seascape sketches in the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate D08089, D08090; Turner Bequest CXV 6, 7) and many comparable seascapes among the so-called ‘colour beginnings’ in the Turner Bequest (groupings CXCVI, CXCVII, CCLXIII in particular).
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.
Finberg 1909, I, p.316.
Ibid., I, p.328.
Ibid., II, p.833.
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

Read full Catalogue entry