This image of mountainous seas with a ship rolling on the horizon, apparently damaged and presumably in the course of being wrecked and lost, is stylistically comparable with ‘Little Liber’ designs,1 particularly the similarly pale-toned canonical ‘Little Liber’ watercolour Ship in a Storm (Tate D25432; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 309a), where a vessel is pencilled in above the waves at the left, still under sail but in difficulties; in the subsequent mezzotint it is transformed into a dark silhouette, as here. Compare also Tate D35926 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 83) in the present subsection.
Eric Shanes has suggested that, of Turner’s numerous shipwreck subjects, he may have been recalling The Wreck of a Transport Ship, of 1810 (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon),2 with its rolling, broken-masted hull, ‘although undoubtedly [this sheet] dates from much later and may have been an attempt to develop the imagery further’.3 He has also compared the present work with a vignette study, possibly related to Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works of 1837 (Tate D27563; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 46), with its dark vessel rolling in a similar attitude.
Turner seems to have found the anonymity of a distant ship at the mercy of the sea evocative; see also the sheet perhaps from the late 1840s, inscribed ‘Lost to all hope she lies | each sea breaks over a derelict | on an unknown shore’ (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),4 with its shadowy listing wreck.
See also Warrell 2002, p.64, and Warrell 2003, pp.70, 147.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.128–9 no.210, pl.213 (colour).
Shanes 1997, p.30; see also p.100.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.471 no.1425, pl.239.