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This drawing has traditionally been categorised as an unengraved design for the Liber Studiorum, though its likely date and a specific subject are difficult to determine. The handling of the clouds can be compared to that in the colour studies in the Skies sketchbook of the late 1810s (Tate; Turner Bequest CLVIII), but there are many similarly loose ‘colour beginnings’ and sketchbook studies in the Bequest which are datable to much later; the present sheet’s watermark of 1813 is the only other evidence. Finberg speculated that it was an alternative version of the engraved but unpublished Liber design The Felucca, the drawing for which (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) Gillian Forrester has convincingly dated to about 1824.1 In the 1909 Inventory, Finberg therefore suggested that it shows a Mediterranean view,2 but in the 1911 Miniature Edition of reproductions of the Liber (for which W.G. Rawlinson, gave ‘generous help and advice all through’)3 it appeared ‘under its proper title “Sea-Piece. The Needles”’.4 The rock formations may be compared to those in the engraved but unpublished Liber composition Moonlight at Sea, based on an early painting generally thought to show the Needles, of the Isle of Wight (for the drawing of about 1818, see Tate D08176; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII V); however, Turner depicted rock arches in a number of classical scenes (for example in the Liber drawing Glaucus and Scylla: Tate D08170; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P) and may indeed have intended to show the Mediterranean here, particularly as the dark sails appear to be of the felucca type.
This is one of five unfinished compositions which were grouped at the end of the 1911 Miniature Edition as suggestions (probably by Rawlinson – see above) for a ‘no.101??’ to bring the series up to the frontispiece plus a full twenty parts, each comprising five engravings. The others are Tate D08101, D08185, D08187 and D40045 (Turner Bequest CXV 48, CXVIII e, g, h).
The thin, off-white sheet, from a batch not used by Turner for other Liber compositions, was made by Joseph Ruse at Upper Tovil Mill at Maidstone in Kent.1 The pencil outlines for the coast at the right do not correspond closely to the arch and other features as washed in. The white sail was reserved, and the dark sail and masts behind it laid in over the wet wash of the sky. The dark clouds towards the upper right have bled into the pale wash of the sky; other clouds were put in put once the sky was dry. The sea is defined with vigorous marks at the left around the boats, and is partly washed out at the centre. There is a fault or fold down the centre of the sheet, where wash has gathered in places. The overall colour is a warm brown. There is yellowish staining from an old mount all round the composition, which has not been trimmed to the image in the usual Liber fashion.
Bower 1990, p.112 note 1.