Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Bend of the River Medway, with Rochester Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 6 a

Catalogue entry

The dominant prospect on this and the facing page describes a bend in the river Medway that had become familiar to Turner by the 1820s. In this half of the composition, the artist looks towards a distant insinuation of various Chatham landmarks; ship-building sheds and paraphernalia at the water’s edge, and the Brompton Barracks. Strood is off towards the left, and a depiction of Rochester straddles the gutter and continues on to the facing sheet. Briefly rendered boats are scattered across the stretch of water, demonstrating the atmosphere of an industrious waterway teeming with life and activity. For a more detailed description of the other half of this sketch, see the entry for folio 7 recto opposite (D17218).
Eric Shanes has connected this drawing with the Rochester, Stroud and Chatham engraving made by J.C. Varall for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales series, published in 1838 (Tate impressions: T05104, T06127), based on Turner’s lost watercolour of about 1836.1 Shanes positions this page as the original drawing upon which the later engraving and various studies and watercolours for it were based.2 The former shows a marked elaboration on the liveliness evident in the boats cutting through the present rendering. Shanes pays particular attention to what he calls a ‘landscape of activity’ in the engraving, in spite of its stilted handling.3 Labourers abound in the foreground, tending to various agricultural tasks, and a mother feeds her child under their gaze.
Shanes has also highlighted a group of works likely to have informed a delicate watercolour study for Rochester, Stroud and Chatham, Medway of about 1830 (Tate D25231; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 109), itself related to the Rochester, Stroud and Chatham, Medway engraving outlined above.4 In addition to the present page, the art historian cites folios 7 recto, 8 verso, 9 recto, 10 recto, and 83 verso (D17218, D17221–D17222, D17224, D17350) as the studies from which this composition is likely to have been elaborated.5

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.402 no.877, as destroyed 1955.
Shanes 1979, p.156.
Shanes 1997, pp.72–3.
David Blayney Brown and Kenneth Reedie, Turner and Kent, Canterbury 2001, pp.3–4.
Wilton 1979, p.311 no.87, then untraced.
Ibid., p.313 no.129, reproduced.

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