Joseph Mallord William Turner

Clouds over the Sea and a Beach, Perhaps near Ostend


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 212 × 276 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXL 6

Display caption

When travelling back from Venice in 1840, Turner made sketches at Passau and Burg Ilz in a 'roll' sketchbook which was slightly smaller than those he generally carried with him. As well as the seven topographical views, the book contained three watercolour sky studies. In this subject, the expanse of water could represent the River Danube, but it is perhaps more probable that this was an effect he saw while crossing the Channel at the end of the tour.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Three fluid, assured colour studies in this sketchbook (D33671–D33673; Turner Bequest CCCXL 6, 7, 8) are thematically unrelated to the colour and pencil studies of sites within a concentrated area along the rivers around Passau in south-eastern Germany, from which it takes its current title (see the Introduction), instead perhaps ‘evoking instead the heavy skies of the English Channel’, as Ian Warrell has noted.1 John Ruskin had assessed them as ‘mere effects’.2
Turner’s extensive Continental itinerary back towards London from Venice and a brief voyage along the Adriatic coast to Trieste (see the Trieste, Graz and Danube sketchbook; Tate; Turner Bequest CCXCIX) concluded with numerous pencil studies at Ostend on the Belgian North Sea coast (see under Tate D30460; Turner Bequest CCCIII 1, in the Würzburg, Rhine and Ostend book). There are a few relatively featureless sea studies associated with its Lagoon setting, gathered in a parallel subsection of this tour. The skies here seem more muted, and may have been directly observed while awaiting embarkation, or perhaps recollected shortly afterwards.
There are many such topographically unspecific studies on separate sheets from Turner’s later years; see John Chu’s ‘Coastal Scenes and Shipping c.1820–45’ section of this catalogue, often with the horizon placed quite high as the fulcrum between the sky and water. Compare for example Tate D35921, D35924 and D35995 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 78, 81, 151). It is no doubt fortuitous that the Como and Venice sketchbook, used for Turner’s first colour studies of the city in 1819, also contains similar exercises (Tate D15261–D15264; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 10–13).
Warrell 2014, p.193.
Quoted in Finberg 1909, II, p.1064.
Technical notes:
A strong acid green has been used for the sea, and is also present in the clouds. There is a thin streak of undiluted yellow towards the bottom right, and another spot at the bottom left.
Blank; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCXL – 6’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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