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This ‘colour beginning’ is unusual in its vertical format. Gerald Wilkinson has noted its ‘Untypical proportions and a most untypical decorative treatment. ... Although the treatment is mannered, it must be admitted that the sea and sky are very convincing.’1 Eric Shanes has suggested a connection2 with the oil A Ship Aground of about 1827–8 (Tate N02065),3 which was painted in an unusually wide double-square format as a near-complete ‘sample study’ for Turner’s decorative scheme in Lord Egremont’s panelled dining room at Petworth House, Sussex.4 The composition was not developed for that setting, but informed the more conventionally proportioned painting Fort Vimieux, exhibited in 1831 (private collection).5
The blotchy ochre area above the waves on the left may suggest cliffs, which do not feature in A Ship Aground. Any resemblance or thematic similarity may be fortuitous, given the frequency of marine subjects in Turner’s work. Compare for example a slight but evocative shipwreck study perhaps connected with the mid-1820s ‘Little Liber’ (Tate D25339; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 217). Turner continued to respond to the poignant anonymity of a distant ship at the mercy of the sea; a sheet perhaps dating from the late 1840s is inscribed ‘Lost to all hope she lies | each sea breaks over a derelict | on an unknown shore’ (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).6
Wilkinson 1975, p.123.
See Shanes 1997, pp.30, 100.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.167 no.287, pl.289 (colour).
See ibid., pp.164–9.
Ibid., pp.192–3 no.341, pl.343.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, London 1979, p.471 no.1425, pl.239.
There is a presumably adventitious stroke of dark blue over the waves towards the bottom left.