Catalogue entry

75. [T03874] The Confluence of the Thames and the Medway Exh. 1808

Canvas, 35 × 47 (89 × 119·4)
Signed ‘J M W Turner RA fe’ lower right

Coll. Bought by the Earl of Egremont probably from Turner's gallery in 1808; by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1808; Tate Gallery 1951 (17 as ‘Sheerness’).

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (London House); Collins Baker 1920, p. 126 no. 665; Clare 1951, p. 41; Finberg 1961, pp. 145–6, 149, 469 no. 120; Joll 1977, p. 375.

Although described as ‘Sheerness’ as early as 1837, this seems to be another example of Turner's pictures soon losing the titles under which they were originally exhibited. Further confusion has arisen because The Function of the Thames and the Medway (No. 62) has virtually the same title and is of much the same date. However, the description of the picture (exhibited in 1808 under the above title) given by John Landseer (?) in Review of Publications of Art, pp. 163–4, fits this picture exactly and there can no longer be any reasonable doubt that the identification is correct.

Landseer devotes some space to a general description of the three Thames seapieces exhibited, as noted in the entry for No. 74. Writing specifically about this picture, he praises the ‘considerable technical knowledge of marine affairs’ displayed in the painting of the ships and their rigging. ‘This Knowledge is always traceable in Mr. Turner's pictures, and we wish we could more frequently say the same of his care’. He goes on to describe it as being ‘altogether much more carefully painted than Sheerness from the Nore [No. 76] ... and its prevailing freshness, and cool and silvery tone, form an agreeable contrast with the rich, golden-toned View in the Forest of Bere (No. 77, [T03875]) which hangs alongside’. It is interesting that Landseer comments upon the picture's freshness as it is certainly painted in a higher key than other seapieces of this date and is unusual in having patches of green pigment, of quite a light tone, among the waves.

A watercolour on p. 41 in the ‘Hesperides (1)’ sketchbook (XCIII) shows a hoy crossing and partly masking a man of war in the same way as shown in this picture although the watercolour contains additional boats that do not appear in the oil. A drawing of fishing boats on p. 32 of the ‘River and Margate’ sketchbook (XCIX) may also possibly be connected.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984