Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Sun Rising over the Sea

c.1820–40

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 298 x 391 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25190
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 68

Display caption

Storms often feature as a dramatic and sublime component of Turner’s paintings. In these three watercolours, gathering storm clouds above a menacing sea provide the artist with the opportunity to experiment with contrasting areas of dark and light.

Turner has combined fluid washes with energetic brushstrokes to create a sense of perpetual movement and change in the weather. Each composition preserves a unity between the sky and the water, the energy or stillness of the waves mirroring or balancing the dynamic masses of the clouds.

Gallery label, July 2008

Catalogue entry

The paleness of the sky suggests this is a sunrise, as Finberg described it,1 although Andrew Wilton has called it a sunset.2 The sun and its reflection on the water were left reserved as blank paper for maximum luminosity. Wilton has related the study to ‘Turner’s work on ... “Little Liber Studiorum”; but it is extremely difficult to say with any certainty when such drawings were made. ... Whether they were actually noted down from nature is almost impossible to ascertain; it is more likely that Turner made them in a sequence, within a very short space of time’3 See the ‘Little Liber c.1823–6’ section of this catalogue, and particularly Study of Sea and Sky (Tate D25479; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 356).
For other ‘colour beginnings’ focusing on a centrally placed sun, see the Introduction to this subsection. See also another study with high, highly coloured clouds laid in ‘wet-in-wet’, Tate D25259 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 137).
1
Finberg 1909, II, p.819.
2
See Wilton 1977, p.36.
3
Ibid.
Verso:
Blank; no inscriptions.

Matthew Imms
March 2016

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