Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Coast at Folkestone


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 x 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVIII 30 a

Catalogue entry

In the central drawing on this page, Turner looks along the coast from Folkestone towards Dover, making note of a row of fishing boats moored in the foreground and a collection of seaside houses to the left, which briefly rendered figures move through.1 He renders a view of the cliffs that recurs several times in his oeuvre and was later used to compose the watercolour Coast from Folkestone Harbour to Dover (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut),2 engraved by J. Horsburgh in 1831 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales series (Tate impression: T04571).3 Eric Shanes has explored this connection, identifying two further studies in the present sketchbook which Turner is likely to have used as a basis for the finished composition, on folios 31 recto and 32 recto (D17259 and D17261). Elsewhere in the Turner Bequest, Shanes also highlights a similar view in the Richmond Hill; Hastings to Margate sketchbook (Tate D10477; Turner Bequest CXL 35a).4
In the foreground of the finished watercolour, Turner added coastguards who supervise as tubs of smuggled contraband are dug up from the sand. As part of his analysis, Shanes explains the lucrative rewards and inevitable prevalence of smuggling in the 1820s following the discharge of 120,000 seamen after 1815 into a climate of high unemployment. He cites an example of an imprisoned smuggling crew who were freed from the gaol in Dover by relatives who tore the building apart in order to release them. In the Folkestone watercolour Turner depicts the detection of a specific smuggling strategy called ‘sinking and creeping’, which ‘involved the throwing of weighted tubes from a boat into the sea at a pre-arranged spot, for later recovery by “fishermen”.’5
At the top left corner of the page is another smaller drawing of a group of houses packed closely together. These seem also to be nestled beneath some coastal cliffs. Between this and the more developed sketch are three straight, vertical lines, the central one of which is shorter than its neighbours. It is difficult to ascertain the purpose of these but they appear symmetrical and measured in a way that might denote proportional calculations.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Finberg 1909, I, p.604.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.396 no.826, reproduced.
Shanes 1979, p.156.

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