Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Rough Sea ?off Brighton or Deal


On loan

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (Aarhus, Denmark): Turner Watercolours: Sun is God

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 143 × 217 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 314

Display caption

Turner often used the technique of brushing a second colour onto wet paper before the first wash has dried, known as ‘wet in wet’, in his sea studies. In particular he employs it to great effect when painting a changing sky where one colour diffuses into another.

He also drives the wet watercolour around the paper with his brush or his fingers so that the direction of the paint echoes the restless energy of the waves and the transient patterns of the sky.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

Although this study of rough waves and overarching clouds gives no indication of a particular setting. Eric Shanes has suggested that it may relate to either of two watercolours among Turner’s Southern Coast designs (see the Introduction to this section).1 One of Brighton made in about 1824 (Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove),2 was engraved in 1825 as Brightonhelmston, Sussex (Tate impressions: T04420–T04421, T05288–T05996); another, Deal, Kent of about 1825 (Deal Town Council), 3 was engraved in 1826 (T04422, T05236–T05237, T05998). They show the towns from off shore across choppy seas; the Brighton view has a bright, clearing sky with a rainbow, but the backdrop to Deal is dark with cloud over a bright horizon.
Other studies linked to Brighton or Deal in the present section are Tate D25410, D25426 and D36117 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 287, 303, CCCLXIV 270). Tate D25477 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 354) may represent an idea for a Southern Coast composition including Walmer Castle, near Deal. Despite the present work’s relatively small scale,4 Gerald Wilkinson, an artist and independent writer on Turner, remarked appreciatively: ‘If I had to choose just one of the “Colour Beginnings” it would be this one.’5
See Shanes 1997, pp.94, 102.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.354 no.479.
Ibid., p.355 no.481.
See Wilkinson 1975, pp.100–1.
Ibid., p.138.
Technical notes:
The bright sky between the clouds and waves has been left as blank paper to maximise the contrast. Eric Shanes has drawn stylistic parallels between this study and numerous other ‘colour beginnings’ of coastal subjects (Tate D25365, D25383, D25393, D25410, D25422, D25426, D25477, D36117; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 243, 260, 270, 287, 299, 303, 354, CCCLXIV 270), even suggesting they ‘may have been created during the same session of work’.1
Shanes 1997, p.61

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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