Joseph Mallord William Turner

Aldborough, Suffolk


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 283 × 400 mm
Bequeathed by Beresford Rimington Heaton 1940

Display caption

Between 1826 and 1838 Charles Heath published a series of engravings called the 'Picturesque Views in England and Wales' after watercolours by Turner. Comprising a total of ninety-six views, this constitutes Turner's most sustained analysis of the lives of his countrymen and their environment. The prints for this series, such as those of 'Alnwick' and 'Stone Henge', were produced through line engraving on copper plates. Turner sold all the finished watercolours during his lifetime so that none became a part of the Turner Bequest: 'Aldborough', issued in the third part of the publication, was acquired separately. There are, however, a number of preparatory studies which relate to engraved subjects.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

John Dillon sale 29 April 1869 (128)
Bought by Agnew
William Quilter, sale Christie 9 April 1875 (242)
Bought by Isaac
Bequeathed by Beresford Rimington Heaton 1940
Entitled Aldborough, Suffolk, this highly finished and colour-rich drawing depicts Aldeburgh, a town which lies on the Suffolk North Sea Coast moments north of the River Alde and Orford Ness. Aldeburgh emerged as a thriving port in the fourteenth century, known for its shipbuilding and fishing industries. Following a period of decline brought about by a sequence of violent storms it was revived in the early nineteenth century by the fashion for sea bathing. The town became a holiday resort, ‘a watering place’, much frequented for its picturesque scenery, seafront promenades and health-giving air.1
In this drawing, however, Turner depicts an altogether separate aspect of the town to that which belonged to holidaymakers. He pictures Aldeburgh’s maritime economy, represented by two groups of sailors and fishermen working at dawn. They are shown from the perspective of the River Alde, with Orford Ness, a long shingle spit, separating the river from the North Sea, which is also visible at far right. The left group is comprised of three men: one holds the oars of a small row boat while his companions mend a floating ship’s mast. As they toil the mast bobs up and down against the force of their hammering and the glassy surface of the water is gently disturbed. Waves of concentric ripples are sent outward from the locus of activity. At right, meanwhile, fishermen set sail to catch the day’s haul. A yawl and schooner are docked at a harbour in the background, and beyond Aldeburgh itself is rendered in fine delineation. The Church of St Peter and St Paul can be seen at left and Fort Green tower mill, built in 1824 for grinding corn, is located close to the seafront.
Conspicuous atop the mound at right is Slaughden Martello Tower: the most northerly of a chain of defensive towers built along the South and East coasts of England in response to Napoleonic invasion. Constructed on Orford Ness between 1808 and 1812, the tower is quatrefoil shaped and had platforms for four guns.2 Turner appears to have diminished its proportions somewhat as the actual building is forty feet in diameter and the same in height.3

Alice Rylance-Watson
April 2015

‘Review of New Publications’ (No. 62 ‘Aldborough described’), The Gentleman’s Magazine, London 1819, vol.89, part II, pp.343–44.
‘History’, Martello Tower Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Landmark Trust, accessed 21 April 2015,
Warrell 1991, p.45 no.36.
Shanes 1991, p.174 no.144.
Blayney Brown 2007, p.14.
Quoted in Blayney Brown 2007, p.14.
For more information see Eric Shanes, ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’ entry in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.87.
Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, vol.I, pp.124–5 no.219 and Warrell 1991, p.45 no.36.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.405 under nos.897, 899, 901; see also Eric Shanes ‘Picturesque Views on the East Coast of England’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.82–3 and Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, vol.I, pp.169–173.

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