View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
In Sketches and Drawings Finberg assigns this sketch to the Shipwreck (2) sketchbook (Tate D05428–D05445; D40697–D40700; Turner Bequest LXXXVIII) and described it as the first in a series representing a shipwreck, depicting ‘a large ship settling down at the bows’. In his interpretation, ‘We are away from the shore. The tragedy is intensified by taking place on the high seas, but the presentment is evidently too bare and matter-of-fact for the artist’, and thus to be adjusted in further sketches in the book. However, rather than portraying a shipwreck, the drawing more probably relates to Boats Carrying Out Anchors and Cables to Dutch Men of War, in 1665 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)1 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1804. This picture was mostly painted in one of the Keeper’s Rooms at the Academy, while Turner’s house and studio in Harley Street were occupied by builders working on his new Gallery.2 It was bought by Samuel Dobree, who later joined the subscribers to Charles Turner’s mezzotint after Turner’s Shipwreck (Tate N00476) and is listed as such on the verso of this leaf (D05377; Turner Bequest LXXXVII 2).
Although a connection has not been noticed until now, the position and archaic build of the ship in this sketch, with a high stern, lanterns and steeply-pitched deck, and the rowing boat in the left foreground, seem clearly to relate to the picture, which was the first of an occasional series referring to the seventeenth-century Anglo-Dutch wars. Such a connection would indicate that the sketchbook was in use several years earlier than usually thought, Finberg having dated it circa 1805.
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