Joseph Mallord William Turner

Cliffs by the Sea at Dawn

c.1820–40

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 275 x 484 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25263
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 141

Catalogue entry

This barely developed but atmospheric ‘colour beginning’ appears to show a line of regular cliffs by the sea with the yellow light of dawn throwing them into silhouette. The only attempt at identifying a particular subject has been Eric Shanes’s tentative suggestion of Pegwell Bay,1 between Ramsgate and Sandwich at the north-east corner of Kent, not far from Margate, Turner’s favoured seaside resort.
Only two slight pencil drawings are currently firmly identifiable as showing the coast of the bay, in the Kent sketchbook of about 1830 (Tate D35806; Turner Bequest CCCLXIII 27) and in the 1845 Dieppe and Kent book (Tate D35683; Turner Bequest CCCLXI 108). If a specific location is intended, the scene could be at many places on the South Coast of England.
Despite the 1794 watermark, the approach is consistent with ‘colour beginnings’ of the 1820s and 1830s, and the sheet is dated accordingly here. The washes of the sky stop some way short of the top edge before starting again above, and it is possible that a second composition was separated there; it was not uncommon for Turner to work on two designs on one sheet in their initial stages.
1
See Shanes 1997, p.94.
Technical notes:
The original sheet has been laid down on a trimmed piece of modern white wove paper, presumably to support the replacement of a large irregular section (73 x 105 mm) missing from top left corner, which has been washed with watercolour to emulate continuations of Turner’s brushstrokes at the edge of the tear. The dark band of wash at the bottom edge has been slightly affected where the sheet was formerly sharply folded about 13 mm in.
Verso:
Inscriptions show through the backing sheet from the otherwise blank verso of the original: by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 150 P | O’ towards bottom right; in pencil ‘CCLXIII – 141’; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 141’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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