Joseph Mallord William Turner

Brighton from the Sea


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 1320 mm
frame: 850 × 1535 × 75 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

[from] Nos. 282–91 : Petworth Landscapes, c. 1828–30

THESE fall into two groups, plus the separate painting relating to the two versions of Chichester Canal (No. 282 [N05563]). The first group consists of the five works from the Turner Bequest now in the Tate Gallery (Nos. 283–7); the second of the four rather more finished pictures still at Petworth (Nos. 288–91). These latter works originally hung below full-length seventeenth-century portraits in the Grinling Gibbons panelled dining-room, and are more or less closely based on four of the Tate Gallery pictures, at least one of which seems originally to have hung in the place later occupied by one of the more finished pictures.

Although Turner had painted a view of Petworth House in 1810 (No. 113 [T03880]) and had sold a considerable number of pictures to Lord Egremont, he became a more frequent visitor to Petworth after the death of his father in 1829. In particular it is known that he stayed there from December 1830 to January 1831. Nearly all recent writers on Turner have followed Finberg in assuming that it was then that the landscapes were painted, or at least begun. On the other hand, Collins Baker dates them c. 1829–30, with the exception of the Brighton, which he assigns definitely to 1830. MacColl, following earlier National Gallery catalogues, dates the sketches for Petworth Park and Chichester Canal (Nos. 283 [N00559] and 285 [N00560]) to 1829. Thornbury dates the Petworth Park even earlier, 1828.

In fact, the first known reference to the landscapes occurs in a letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord of 18 August 1828, giving an account of his visit to Petworth on 16–17 August. After describing ‘the sixty foot dining room’ with its full-length portraits, he goes on, ‘Immense as these pictures are with all their garniture there are still panels to spare, and as he [Lord Egremont] always has artists ready in the house, in one of these compartments, you have Petworth Park by Turner, in another Lord Egremont taking a walk with nine dogs, that are his constant companions, by the same artist ...’ The second of the pictures mentioned must be the Tate Gallery's Petworth Park: Tillington Church in the Distance (No. 283 [N00559]), the dogs in which are omitted from the more finished version at Petworth (No. 288 [T03883]). The other picture is presumably the Tate's Lake, Petworth, Sunset (No. 284 [N02701]), unless the more finished version (No. 289 [T03884]) was already in situ.

John Gage has recently discovered that Turner was at Petworth in August 1827, and the landscapes may have been begun then. On the other hand, Gage has also suggested that the Tate Gallery pictures were begun in London and rejected because they turned out to be too large (1969, p. 260 n. 91), but Creevey's report makes this highly unlikely unless the pictures he saw were somehow only temporarily superimposed on the panels. In any case, the Tate pictures are not consistently larger than the final versions. It may therefore be that Lord Egremont, whose collection had hitherto been confined to Turner's earlier style, found the first set of pictures too sketchy in style; the history of Palestrina (No. 295 [N06283]) suggests another instance of Lord Egremont failing to appreciate Turner's mature work.

That Turner painted some if not all of the Petworth landscapes in the studio specially provided for him in the house is suggested by an anecdote in George Jones' manuscript Recollections of Sir Francis Chantrey, written in 1849: ‘When Turner painted a series of landscapes at Petworth, for the dining-room, he worked with his door locked against everybody but the master of the house. Chantrey was there at the time, and determined to see what Turner was doing; he imitated Lord Egremont's peculiar step, and the two distinct raps on the door by which his lordship was accustomed to announce himself: and the key being immediately turned, he slipped into the room before the artist could shut him out, which joke was mutually enjoyed by the two attached friends’ (reprinted in Finberg 1961, p. 325).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 306; 1877, p. 439; Collins Baker 1920, pp. 124–5; MacColl 1920, p. 27; John Gore (ed.), Creevey's life and Times: A Further Selection from the Correspondence of Thomas Creevey 1934, p. 277; John Gore (ed.), Creevey 1948, p. 293; Finberg 1961, p. 325; Herrmann 1975, pp. 34, 231–2; Joll 1977, pp. 374–9; Young-blood 1983, p. 16.

291. [T03886] Brighton from the Sea c. 1829


Canvas, 25 × 52 (63·5 × 132·1)

Coll. Painted for the third Earl of Egremont for the dining-room at Petworth; by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted in part payment of death duties.

Exh. R.A. 1894 (141); Tate Gallery 1951 (11); Whitechapel 1953 (85); Wildenstein 1954 (19).

Engr. By R. Wallis in the Turner Gallery 1859.

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (Carved Room); Burnet and Cunningham 1852, p. 44; Thornbury 1862, i, p. 306; ii, pp. 13, 160, 397; 1877, pp. 308, 439, 594; Armstrong 1902, p. 219; Rawlinson ii 1913, pp. 208, 358; Hussey 1925, p. 975, repr.; Collins Baker 1920, p. 125 no. 140; G. P. Boyce ‘Diaries: 1851–75’, Old Water Colour Society's Nineteenth Annual Volume 1941, pp. 24–5; Clare 1951, p. 79; T. S. R. Boase, English Art 1800–1870 1959, pp. 115–16, pl. 45a; Finberg 1961, p. 325; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 46, 48, pl. 85; Gage 1969, pp. 148, 260 n. 91; Reynolds 1969, p. 133; Joll 1977, pp. 375, 378–9, pl. 6; Gage 1980, p. 250.

A full-size sketch is in the Tate Gallery (No. 286 [N02064]) and various drawings of the Chain Pier at Brighton and distant views of the town are included in the ‘Arundel and Shoreham’ sketchbook (CCXLV); pp. 18, 23 and 68 are sketches of the pier or of sections of it, p. 30 is a study of the boats, with differences, which appear on the left of the picture and p. 20 shows the buildings along the front with the windmill on the horizon which appears in the oil.

The Chain Pier, which figures so prominently, was built to the designs of Captain (later Sir) Samuel Brown, R.N., and opened in 1823. It was blown down in a gale in 1896 and vanished in a few months. Lord Egremont had a financial interest in the pier, being one of the original stockholders, which explains why it was chosen as a suitable subject to hang with the two views of Petworth Park. Turner may also have welcomed the opportunity to paint the Chain Pier because Constable had exhibited a picture of the subject at the R.A. in 1827 (186); this is now in the Tate Gallery (N05957).

For dating of the four landscapes see no. 288 [T03883].

This picture features in an anecdote, the outcome of which is the subject of conflicting stories. In his diary, the artist G. P. Boyce (1826–97) mentions a visit to Petworth in 1857. The relevant passage is as follows:

‘June 30 at Petworth. The pictures by Turner are of the crude yellow sort. The Chain Pier at Brighton being the best. He introduced in the foreground of it a broken basket with some floating turnips, carrots etc. and as the old butler told me (who was in the house at the time and didn't relish the painter's uncouth manners) was savage when at Lord E's suggestion as to their specific gravity, he asked for a tub of water and some of the identical vegetables and found the latter all sank. They were evidently too useful in his picture to be removed.’

However, Thornbury in his account of the incident (1877, p. 308) confines the dispute to carrots alone (it is difficult to identify any of the vegetables in the picture as indisputable carrots) and records that when the bucket and carrots were brought Turner's affirmation that they would float was proved to be correct.

It would seem from a simple experiment conducted by the compiler that Turner was in fact right and indubitably so if the carrots are released in the sea.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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