Joseph Mallord William Turner

Calais Harbour from a Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 78 × 118 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXVI 12

Catalogue entry

These previously unidentified sketches show the coast and harbour at Calais.1 The spired church and two towered buildings correspond exactly to three earlier sketches of the French port in the Remarks (Italy) sketchbook of 1820 (Tate D16886; Turner Bequest CXCII 104). This sketch and and those produced four years earlier clearly shows the silhouettes of the Eglise de Notre-Dame (see Tate D19577; Turner Bequest CCXVI 13a), the Tour de Guet, and the Hôtel de Ville.
The towers of both the town hall and Tour de Guet rose ‘to a considerable height’ over the town, according to one commentator. Where the Hôtel de Ville marked the civic and administrative centre of Calais, the Tour de Guet played a crucial role in maritime safety and defence as the town’s principal lighthouse and watchtower. By the time of Turner’s visit in 1824, Guet Tower boasted a most ‘useful and ornamental revolving light’ composed of ‘six parabolical reflectors’ which emitted beams of light as an aid to mariners navigating the Channel (see Tate impression T04761 for an engraving after Turner’s illustration of the tower in Scott’s Poetical Works, c.1834–6).2
The squat building seen in the uppermost sketch is the Fort Rouge (see Tate D04199, D24879; Turner Bequest LXXI 7, CCLX 43). Designed by Jean Caligny in 1691 and completed in 1695, the Fort Rouge was a battery consisting of a solid wooden platform supported by wooden stilts.3 It was built out to sea, where the water was shallow enough to prohibit attacking ships from advancing.4 The fort played a significant role in the Napoleonic Wars, sheltering French ships coming in and out of Calais harbour.5 Clarkson Stanfield also pictured Fort Rouge for a series of engravings entitled Stanfield’s Coast Scenery of 1836 (see Tate impressions T05685 and T05686).
For other sketches of Calais in this book see Tate D19923–D19927; Turner Bequest CCXVI 186a–188a.

Alice Rylance-Watson
February 2014

Powell 1991, Appendix, p.203
Thomas Byerley, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume XXXI, London 1838, pp.404–5.
‘Calais’, Fortified Places, accessed 18 February 2014,

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop