The subject is derived from a sketch in the Bristol and Malmesbury sketchbook (Tate D00074; Turner Bequest VI 3). Both this study and that sketch were very probably used as the bases for the watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy 1793 (8) under the title The rising squall – Hot Wells, from St Vincent’s Rock, Bristol. The damaged sheet testifies to its intensive use in the studio. The exhibited work was tentatively identified by Finberg1 as a drawing of which one version is in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery,2 but that is probably another subject, dating from a year earlier.
Of the work exhibited in 1793 Peter Cunningham wrote in his memoir of Turner that it ‘evinced for the first time that mastery of effect for which he is now so justly celebrated.’3 The present study seems to possess qualities appropriate to that assessment. The pigment is elaborately worked with the fingers in places. It is used to portray effects of fitful, stormy light and atmosphere, and the composition is full of well-observed detail: the finished figures, for instance, which would not usually feature in a study of this kind; though compare the series of coastal subjects (Tate D00392, D00394, D00396; Turner Bequest XXIII R, T 2, V).
A slight sketch, perhaps related to this subject, is on the verso of the sheet (D40334).
Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, pp.22–3.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.302 no.18, pl.8.
Peter Cunningham, ‘Memoir’ of Turner, prefixed to John Burnet, Turner and his Works, London 1852.
The sheet has been stained, rubbed and damaged in the 1928 Tate flood.