Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Blaxton Quay, off the River Tavy


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 181 x 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXVII 53 a

Catalogue entry

The view is possibly of Blaxton Quay, on the shallow, tidal Blaxton Creek just off the River Tavy opposite Bere Ferrers, not far above the river’s confluence with the Tamar north-west of Plymouth. There are ruined lime kilns at the site, which is not publicly accessible and is now largely silted up.1 If this identification is correct, the view is to the north-west, with the Tavy beyond the low trees in the distance. This sketch is the source of a watercolour, traditionally known as Sunshine on the Tamar, of about 1813 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),2 perhaps originally intended for Turner’s Rivers of Devon series. It was previously owned by John Ruskin who initially called it ‘Pigs in Sunshine. Scene on the Tavey [sic], Devonshire’ before adopting the present title without explanation; it had been chromo-lithographed in 1855 as The Banks of the Tavey, and is the best candidate for the work exhibited at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London, in 1829 as ‘River Tavey, Devonshire’.3
The left middle distance of the finished composition was worked up to look more purposeful, with additional figures, boats and packhorses, while the boat in the right foreground was transferred almost exactly. It appears that the abbreviated shapes beside it in the sketch are one or two of the pigs which occupy a more prominent position counterbalancing it in the left foreground of the watercolour, bathed in the light of a Claude Lorrain-like central sun.
The sketchbook contains numerous views in and around the Tamar and Tavy valleys between folios 46 verso (D10265; CXXXVII 43a) and 58 verso (D10289; CXXXVII 55a), probably made in the summer of 1813 in conjunction with those in the smaller Devon Rivers, No.1 sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXII). The latter is covered in the section of the present catalogue specifically devoted to Turner’s 1813 visit to Devon, where further information on Turner’s work in the locality will be found.
The sketch is inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation. If both identifications are correct, the prospect of the Tavy on folio 58 verso of the present sketchbook (D10289; CXXXVII 55a) is from just north of Blaxton Creek, overlooking it.

Matthew Imms
May 2011

See no.5 in ‘Section 1: Tamerton Foliot to Bere Ferrers’ of ‘Points of Interest’ in ‘Tamar Valley Discovery Trail: North and South Routes’, Tamar Valley Tourism Association, accessed 18 May 2011,
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.350 no.444, reproduced, as ‘Sunshine on the Tamar’.
See Herrmann 1968, pp.93–4, Wilton 1979 p.350, Shanes 1981, p.22, and Shanes 1990, p.40.

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