TURNER revisited the Isle of Wight in late July and August 1827, staying with the architect John Nash at East Cowes Castle. In an undated letter he asked his father to send one or if possible two pieces of unstretched canvas, either a piece measuring 6 ft by 4 ft or a ‘whole length’, and it was on a 6 ft by 4 ft canvas, cut into two, that he painted these nine sketches. The 1854 Schedule of the Turner Bequest listed, under nos. 203 to 206, 207 to 210, 211 to 214, and 215 to 218, four ‘Roll[s] containing 4 subjects’. Despite the fact that one of the Cowes canvases contained five sketches the two rolls were probably among these four. They were rediscovered at the National Gallery in 1905 and divided into separate pieces. One roll contained Nos. 260 [N01995], 262 [N01993], 264 [N02000], 266 [N01996] and 268 [N02001] and the other Nos. 261 [N01994], 263 [N01998], 265 [N01997] and 267 [N01999].
No record was made of the placing of the sketches on the two rolls on canvas, but to a certain extent this can be reconstructed. On the first roll the two largest sketches, Nos. 264 [N02000] and 262 [N01993], were one above the other, flanked on the left by Nos. 266 [N01996], 260 [N01995] (both upside down) and 268 [N02001]. On the other Nos. 267 [N01999] and 263 [N01998] were at the top, Nos. 265 [N01997] and 261 [N01994] below; No. 261 [N01994] was definitely to the right of No. 265 [N01997], and No. 267 [N01999] seems to have been above No. 265 [N01997].
It has been suggested by Graham Reynolds that at least some of these sketches were painted on the spot, though the practical difficulties, especially when the artist was out at sea, would have been considerable. As Evelyn Joll has suggested, a clue as to where Turner may have done the sketches is given by the sketch Between Decks (No. 266 [N01996]). This appears to have been painted a board a man-of-war and there seems no reason why Turner could not have painted the sketches of yachts racing from a ship anchored of Cowes Roads. If so, Turner's vantage point would seem to have been on a ship rather further offshore than the guardship that can be seen in Nos. 242, 261 [N01994] and 262 [N01993]. It is interesting that the three sketches for The Regatta beating to Windward would seem to have been painted alternately on each roll, No. 260 [N01995] on the first, No. 261 [N01994] on the second, and No. 262 [N01993] again on the first; this could have been to allow an assistant time to adjust the roll for a new sketch.
The ‘Windsor and Cowes’ sketchbook (CCXXVI) contains drawings of boats racing, boats at anchor, views of the coast and figure studies, though none directly related to the oil sketches, which to a certain extent supports the suggestion that they were done on the spot. It also contains a list of the boats with their names, the names of their owners, and their colours, showing just how detailed was Turner's interest in the Regatta (CCXXVI-80 verso).
The two groups of sketches of the Regatta were used for the pictures commissioned by John Nash and exhibited the following year (see Nos. 242 and 243). The other three, including Between Decks, were not used for more finished pictures.
Lit. MacColl 1920, pp. 31–3; Reynolds 19692, pp. 67–72.
268. [N02001] Study of Sea and Sky, Isle of Wight 1827
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (2001)
Canvas, 12 × 19 1/8 (30·5 × 48·5)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? one of 203–18; see p. 159); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.
Exh. New Zealand (5), Australia and South Africa (55) 1936—9; Rotterdam 1955 (54); R.A. 1974–5 (319).
Lit. Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 39; Reynolds 19692, p. 72.
One of the five sketches on the first roll of canvas used at Cowes in 1827, this may well be Turner's first oil painting concentrating on the two elements, sea and sky. The coast can just be seen on the horizon.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984