Joseph Mallord William Turner

Beached Ships on the River Medway


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 190 × 112 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 2

Catalogue entry

As identified by Finberg, this page pursues the shipping theme evident throughout the sketchbook.1 The Medway identification is suggested here in light of the volume’s overriding topographic focus. With the page turned vertically, a panoramic prospect stretches across the top of the page. It displays unmanned boats along the bank. The masts stand tall, projecting into the blank space of sky, and dark, angular scribbles mark pockets of shadow across the clusters of wooden hulls. At far left some reasonably flat topography is evident, and two structures, the leftmost a windmill, are visible on the horizon.
Beneath this full-width panorama, on the right, Turner marks three edges of a box around another sketch of vessels. This separates the miniature scene from the rest of the sheet, although thematically it remains consistent. Here, Turner observes docked ships. A particularly large boat is positioned at centre. Its tall masts are the highest points in the drawing, and it is shown lengthways, in profile, while the smaller boats meet Turner’s gaze head-on. At far right a brief sliver of topography is indicated.
At top left, this time made with the page turned horizontally according to the foliation of the sketchbook, a more expansive drawing of a large vessel is delineated. The handling is light and quick, although the shape of the hull is clear and distinctive, and the masts and brief rigging confidently rendered.
Again with the page used horizontally, according to the sketchbook’s foliation, Turner makes a final drawing, or group of drawings, across the middle of the remaining blank space. At far left a portion of a coastal headland is evident. To the immediate right of this a ship is lightly indicated, its masts and rigging rendered as a brief grid. This prospect may extend further towards the right, however at the centre of the page the lines become confused and their meaning unclear.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Finberg 1909, I, p.607.

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