Joseph Mallord William Turner

At South Foreland

c.1821–2

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 113 x 187 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D17326
Turner Bequest CXCVIII 70

Catalogue entry

The title given to this page takes its cue from Turner’s inscription at bottom centre: ‘S’ For’.1 A chalk headland 3 miles northeast of Dover on the Kent coast, South Foreland and its lighthouse or lighthouses supply subjects for many of Turner’s sketches made on this and a number of pages in the present sketchbook. For a comprehensive list of studies of this location, more information about the lighthouse, and a list of pages which seem to describe it, see the entry for folio 8 recto (D17220).
The topmost sketch on the present page is perhaps its most ambiguous. The drawing describes an ascending sweep of coastal land, apparently on the edge of a cliff, which curves as it recedes into the background at top left and is marked by four intermittent architectural structures. In the foreground, again on the left, Turner delineates a squat, cylindrical tower with a distinctive short turret jutting out at the top and an opening cut into the inland-facing side. It is possible that this is what was known as the Lower Light at South Foreland; a smaller structure built much closer to the cliff edge, which was completely rebuilt in 1846 and was ostensibly designed to be used in conjunction with the Upper Light: ‘The seamen would line up the two lights, and when the Upper Light shone directly above the Lower Light they could steer safely past the southern tip of the Goodwin Sands’.2 This would seem to qualify the suggestion that the tall tower at the top of the page, further away from the precipice, is the Upper Light of the main lighthouse at South Foreland, again pictured before it was completely rebuilt in the mid nineteenth century.3 The two outstanding structures, one closer to the foreground between the two lighthouses, and the other to the west of the Upper Light, in the distance at top left, might constitute houses or another manner of outbuildings, perhaps associated with these original lighthouses.
Dominating much of the remaining space on this page, and rendered in a diagonal composition reaching from bottom left to top right, is an expansive drawing of the chalk cliffs at South Foreland observed from below. Turner looks south-west, towards Dover. The sketch overlaps with part of the topography from the image above, where both encroach on the top right corner of the sheet. A sharp headland at far left is possibly a representation of Shakespeare Cliff. Turner depicts the distinctive headland several times in the present sketchbook, and a full list of instances is included in the entry for folio 38 verso (D17272). In the foreground of the present drawing, at the bottom of the page, a combination of short, blunt lines and frothy, lively markings denote crashing waves on the shore.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

1
Finberg 1909, I, p.606.
2
‘The Current lighthouse’, National Trust, accessed 18 November 2015, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/south-foreland-lighthouse/features/the-current-lighthouse.
3
Ibid.

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