J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?The Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm at Night, with Shipping c.1813

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 41 Recto:
?The Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm at Night, with Shipping circa 1813
D10258
Turner Bequest CXXXVII 40
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 181 x 228 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘40’ top left, inverted
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CXXXVII 40’ top left, inverted
 
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Eddystone Lighthouse, built on an isolated rock about thirteen miles south-west of Plymouth, Devon, has gone through several incarnations since 1698. John Smeaton’s tower, operational from 1759, lasted until 1882, when a new tower was built and the upper part of Smeaton’s structure was transported back to the mainland and prominently re-erected on Plymouth Hoe.1 John Ruskin mentioned ‘studies of Eddystone’ in his endorsement of this sketchbook (see the Introduction). The present study, along with those on folios 40 recto and 42 recto (D10257, D10260; CXXXVII 39, 41) seem to show the characteristic silhouette of Smeaton’s tower, albeit in no great detail, under different lighting conditions: D10257 with the tower bright against dark clouds, and D10260 with it black and unlit against a low full moon.
The adjacent study of an empty sea and sky on folio 39 verso (D10256; CXXXVII 38) is likely to be related. It and D10257 have been described as ‘of a freedom normally associated with the late 1810s, or even later’,2 but the possible date of the sequence may be earlier. Gerald Wilkinson has observed that Turner’s best and probably only opportunities to see the lighthouse would have been his extended West Country journey of 1811 or his return visit to Plymouth in 1813. Both these tours are dealt with in separate sections of the present catalogue, and the current sketchbook contains drawings apparently made on both trips (see the Introduction). As Wilkinson suggests, the leisurely stay of 1813 was the more likely occasion for such an excursion.3 Turner’s short 1813 coastal voyage south-eastwards from Plymouth Sound, past the Mew Stone and on to Burgh Island, is documented in a long sequence of sketches in the Plymouth, Hamoaze sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXI) and in contemporary accounts, as discussed in its Introduction, but the less accessible Eddystone does not seem to be mentioned in relation to Turner’s activities that year.
Assuming that these studies do show it, it is also possible that Turner could have worked from existing prints. As Eric Shanes has pointed out, the watercolour engraved for Turner’s Marine Views series in 1824 (Tate impression: T04820) as The Edystone Light House (currently untraced)4 was documented in the hands of the publisher W.B. Cooke in 1817.5 By then, Cooke had engraved Samuel Owen’s view of the lighthouse for the multi-artist Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Tate impressions: T05402, T05403), the primary impetus for Turner’s 1811 tour.
Of the three lighthouse views in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook, the present one, with the central tower in phosphorescent outline against a dark sky, shipping being tossed about to the left and what may be the wreckage of a mast and top to the right can be related point for point to the engraved image, making the Eddystone identification reasonably likely. The studies have been dated here to about 1813 on the basis that Turner may have actually visited the structure then, though presumably not in such dramatic conditions.6
The composition is inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliated sequence.

Matthew Imms
May 2011

1
See ‘Eddystone’, Trinity House, accessed 18 May 2011, http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses/lighthouse_list/eddystone.html; see also Shanes 1981, p.47, and the same author’s Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, p.268.
2
Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.66.
3
Gerald Wilkinson, The Sketches of Turner, R.A. 1802–20: Genius of the Romantic, London 1974, p.132; see also Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.66, Shanes 1981, p.47 and Shanes 1990 p.268.
4
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.357 no.506.
5
Shanes 1981, p.47.
6
See Gerald Wilkinson, The Sketches of Turner, R.A. 1802–20: Genius of the Romantic, London 1974, p.132.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?The Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm at Night, with Shipping c.1813 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2011, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-eddystone-lighthouse-in-a-storm-at-night-with-shipping-r1131301, accessed 10 July 2014.