See Introduction to the sketchbook and comment to folios 12 and 17 (D06631, D06636). This and folio 17 (D06637) depict larger ships in more severely frozen conditions than the other frost scenes in the book, and may represent Turner’s imaginative response to the Thames freeze of January 1814 or to an historical subject such as the death of the explorer Hugh Willoughby. When on loan to Oxford, the present drawing was placed by Ruskin in the ‘Marine Series’ and variously called ‘“The Inscrutable!”’, ‘Dutch boats in breeze’ and ‘Shipwreck’. The first title may have been Ruskin’s own play on the inscrutable character of the subject, which is also reflected in his changes of mind about its name. As noted in the Introduction, a drawing by Alexander Cozens (Tate T08772) of a ship in distress in stormy seas or ice is also known as A Shipwreck Fantasy. ‘Inscrutable’. Possibly there was once a story or legend of such a ship which is now forgotten. But, although nowhere explained by him, the title for the Cozens seems to originate with its former owner A.P. Oppé, who may have seen Turner’s drawing with Ruskin’s ‘Inscrutable’ title while at New College, Oxford, 1897–1901.1 Certainly Oppé found Cozens’s subject tantalising, writing of the artist’s powers of suggestion in his wash and blot drawings being ‘difficult to follow or even ... irreconcilable with fact as in a strange drawing of a shipwreck where a black mass may either be a cliff or a bank of clouds’.2
For Oppé see Robin Hamlyn, ‘In Pursuit of the Abstract and the Practical: A.P. Oppé and the Collecting of British Watercolours and Drawings in the Early 1900s’, in Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, especially p.10.
A.P. Oppé, Alexander and John Robert Cozens, London 1952, p.102.
Blank, inscribed ?by Turner in pencil ‘136’ and ?by John Ruskin in red ink ‘319. J. 855’