Joseph Mallord William Turner

Clouds at Dawn or Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 298 × 496 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 170

Catalogue entry

Finberg described this evocatively as a study of ‘crimson clouds’,1 and the strong red and pink strokes suggest high clouds catching the light at sunrise or sunset. Eric Shanes has been more circumspect, noting that the sheet ‘bears a range of warmly coloured brushstrokes and small areas of wash that perhaps denote clouds’,2 implying that the pictorial effect may be the fortuitous result of testing the papers suitability ‘to sustain both deep tones and rich colours’,3 as the other half of the original sheet had been used for a landscape study of perhaps about 1834, as described in the technical notes below. Compare the more elaborately worked formations in Tate D25190 and D25259 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 68, 137).
Finberg 1909, II, p.827.
Shanes 1997, p.30.
Ibid., p.31.
Technical notes:
Paper conservator Peter Bower has identified this as one half of a sheet of machine-made printing paper of ‘Sheet and a half Post Folio’ format (average 596 x 495 mm; 23 ½ x 19 ½ inches), made by Richard Elliott at Chesham Bois Mill, Buckinghamshire. The torn edge at the bottom matches the top edge of a watercolour study possibly showing the landscape setting of Llanthony Abbey (Tate D25136; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 14), relating to a finished watercolour of about 1834. That other study bears Turner’s note ‘Elliotts paper’, of which Turner’s brief inscription on the present sheet may be an abbreviation.
Bower suggests that the sheet was made in about 1810, a very early date for machine-made paper, and ‘so far’ the only such early sheet identified in the Turner Bequest; Turner’s use of it may have been experimental, and it probably proved not to meet his need for the ‘subtle character and qualities’ he found in hand-made papers.1
An irregular hole torn in the surface to the right of centre has been repaired.
Bower 1990, p.124; see also Shanes 1997, pp.95, 100.
Blank; inscribed by John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 150 P | O’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII | 170’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 170’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
March 2016

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