Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Group of Boats at Rouen


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 79 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII a 4

Catalogue entry

Finberg noted in his inventory that this page was ‘apparently [a] leaf of [a] sketch book, but in halves’.1 Ian Warrell has subsequently identified it as half of a page which is now bound in the Mortlake and Pulborough sketchbook (Tate D40984; Turner Bequest CCXIII 90v) but once belonged to the Paris, Seine and Dieppe Sketchbook 1821 (D18525–D18568; D18571–D18590; D40975–D40977; Turner Bequest CCXI complete sketchbook).2 The other half of the page depicts a river scene with a bridge.
The sketch depicts a sailing boat on a river with a punt and several figures standing nearby, and in the background the rough outline of a city with the towers of Rouen Cathedral. It has been connected to a similar sketch of the same boat in the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook, 1821 (Tate D24528; Turner Bequest CCLVIII 15), and both drawings have been identified as the basis of an oil sketch that was once thought to be an Italian subject,3 but has now been renamed A Sail Boat at Rouen (Tate N03386). There is also a related watercolour and gouache study of the same boat and a similar view of Rouen which Turner executed around 1832 (Tate D24727; Turner Bequest CCLIX 162).4
The identification of this sketch and its association with the drawing in the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook, and with the oil and watercolour studies, has therefore proved to be important for several reasons. First, it confirms that the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook and the Paris, Seine and Dieppe Sketchbook were used by Turner during the same tour of France in 1821. And second, it has helped to re-identify the oil sketch which is one of several oil studies of Rouen subjects that were all previously thought to belong to a larger group of canvases painted in and depicting Rome.
On the reverse of this page is half of a watercolour study of the sky (Tate D40311). The colour and image match with the half page in the Mortlake and Pulborough sketchbook (Tate D18839; Turner Bequest CCXIII 90) confirming that the two sheets were once one.

Thomas Ardill
March 2013

Finberg 1909, II. p.845, CCLXIII (a) 4
Warrell 1999, p.24.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.179 no.317 as Fishing Boat in a Mist, 1828; Warrell 1999, p.268 under no.55 as A Sail Boat, Rouen, ?1827–8.
Ibid., pp.24, 268 under no.55.

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