Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Rough Sea with Waves Breaking on a Beach, Perhaps on the Venice Lido or the Adriatic Coast


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and graphite on paper
Support: 191 × 280 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 17

Technique and condition

This work is on medium weight, grey coloured, wove paper. There is no watermark. All four edges of the sheet have been neatly torn rather than cut.
In the composition the image covers the bottom half of the recto and the sky has been left blank. This is a lightly executed watercolour where the colour of the paper has been used to great dramatic effect. In many places only a single light wash of colour has been used and the sheet itself has been allowed to show through in much of the composition. In contrast to the watery washes used in the rest of the picture, a thick impasto of white gouache has been used to create the whites of the water in the foreground; in the background a much thinner white gouache has been used for the waves, creating a sense of depth in the composition. White was the final material added to the work. On the left-hand side of the composition the detail of the outline of a boat and figures have been executed in what appears to be red chalk.
In the bottom left hand corner of the verso there is what appears to be a number ‘80’ handwritten in red ink, probably by John Ruskin, but the bottom of the ‘8’ is obscured by skinning of the paper in this area.
There are some minor handling creases in the centre of the sheet. There are several areas of brown, aqueous staining on the sheet – most noticeably in the bottom right hand corner of the verso and along the left-hand edge of the verso (these stains are also visible on the recto). There is skinning on the top and bottom left-hand corners of the verso where it has been removed from a lining sheet or mount. In the bottom right-hand corner of the verso a piece of tissue is adhered.
There are smudges and black surface dirt in the bottom right-hand quarter of the verso. Along the bottom edge of the verso, to the left-hand side of the sheet there is some brown surface dirt.

Helen Evans
April 2009

Catalogue entry

This is one of three colour studies on grey paper (Tate D32191, D32202, D32203; Turner Bequest CCCXVII 12, 17, 18) included in the present grouping of Venice Lagoon subjects. Only the last of these has previously been proposed in recent years as relating to Turner’s 1840 visit. The other two are included here tentatively by association in terms of the similarity of their grey paper supports (see the technical notes below) and their having originally been included in the ‘Venice: Miscellaneous. (b) Grey Paper’ section of Finberg’s 1909 Inventory, albeit D32191 was among a handful (D32185–D32191; CCCXVII 6–12) on similar paper of which he noted ‘some – probably all ... are not Venetian subjects’, but likely ‘done at the same time’,1 while this and D32203 were given generic titles. D32185–D32190 are included elsewhere in the present tour. Finberg subsequently decided that the present sheet was ‘nothing to do with Venice’.2
Small figures and boats drawn up on the shore delicately outlined (possibly from direct observation) at the bottom left give a sense of scale and drama to the choppy sea and white surf, laid on in thick white strokes with ochre touches suggesting churning sands. Such beach studies are characteristic of all phases of Turner’s career, with the use of grey or blue paper common from the 1820s onwards (see the ‘Coastal Scenes and Shipping c.1820–45’ and ‘Figures on a Beach c.1826–45’ sections of this catalogue). The setting might be the Lido facing the Adriatic Sea south-east of Venice, elsewhere on the Adriatic (which Turner crossed to Trieste as he began the return leg of the 1840 tour), or even a Channel coast closer to home.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1022; see also Finberg 1930, p.175, and Wilton 1974, p.160.
Undated MS note by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1024; see also Finberg 1930, p.175.
Technical notes:
As it was not identified there as a Venice subject, this sheet is not included in Ian Warrell’s survey of the papers used on Turner’s visits to Venice,1 where others from Turner Bequest section CCCXVII are listed (see under D32203) as on English Bally, Ellen and Steart grey paper, used in 1840 (and possibly in a few cases in 1833); whether the present visually similar sheet, which lacks a watermark, is from the same source remains to be confirmed. Subjects encountered on the way to and from the city on that occasion, now scattered through the Bequest but including D32185–D32190 (CCCXVII 6–11), are on sheets by the same maker, as noted by Cecilia Powell.2
See Ian Warrell in Warrell, David Laven, Jan Morris and others, Turner and Venice, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, pp.258–9.
See Cecilia Powell, Turner in Germany, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, p.145, except D32185; it too is confirmed as Bally, Ellen and Steart paper in Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.105.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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