Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Cutter, Fishing Boats and a Guardship in the Thames Estuary


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 171 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCIII 41

Catalogue entry

As noted in the Introduction to the sketchbook, this leaf was transposed with folio 11 when the two were returned to the sketchbook after their absences in touring exhibitions. In his article on these exhibitions, Ian Warrell does not identify this watercolour as the exhibited ‘Sea Piece’ although its number in the Second Loan Exhibition was given by Finberg. The colours are badly faded as a result of exposure during this touring display.
Turner took this sketchbook on an expedition down the Thames as far as Gravesend and Sheerness, and may have used it on a boat. However this watercolour must be a studio variation and development of studies in pen and ink and wash on folios 16 and 17 (D05791, D05792) depicting shipping in the estuary. Hill observes its complexities of narrative, involving a cutter speeding dangerously between two fishing boats and a naval guardship off Sheerness in the background, and its subtle effects of back-lighting. Folio 17 shows essentially the same composition in reverse. Finberg related the present watercolour to The Confluence of the Thames and Medway exhibited at Turner’s Gallery in 1808 (Tate T03874, displayed at Petworth House)1 but the correspondence is not exact and there are more boats than in the oil. Folios 16 and 17 are related to other Thames sea-pieces whose compositions and the drawings for them tend to overlap.

David Blayney Brown
October 2007

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.57–8 no.75 (pl.85).

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