Joseph Mallord William Turner

Coast of Yorkshire


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 184 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII B

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘COAST OF YORKSHIRE. | near Whitby.’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
On his way to Scotland in 1801, Turner travelled along the Yorkshire coast north from Scarborough, and made the pencil drawing (Ruskin School Collection, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)1 which was the source for this Liber Studiorum composition. The Oxford sketch was originally a leaf of the Smaller Fonthill sketchbook (some pages at Tate; Turner Bequest XLVIII); several other Liber designs were derived from the same book: Drawing of the Clyde (indirectly), Rivaux Abbey and Dumblain Abbey, Scotland (for drawings see Tate D08122, D08154, D08157; Turner Bequest CXVI U, CXVII Z, CXVIII C), and Solway Moss.2
The original drawing is rapid and nervous, with the cliffs almost entirely lacking in detail, and no indication of time of day, weather or the state of the sea; the foreground is slightly more developed with intermittent heavy shading defining the rocks, and there are three or four tiny figures in the distance on the right. However, as Herrmann has noted, in the Liber drawing the scene ‘was transformed into a dramatic episode; the small figures become survivors from a shipwreck, surrounded by angry seas, threatening sky and much local incident.’3 Indeed, Gillian Forrester compares the mood and intention of the composition to the dramatic 1804 oil An Avalanche in the Alps (Tate, T00772) by the London-based, Alsatian painter Philippe Jacques (Philip James) de Loutherbourg, which Turner could have seen when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy or in the collection of his patron Sir John Leicester.4 In Turner’s composition, the snow is replaced by sea spray, but the sense of humanity at the mercy of greater forces of is similar. The rocky foreground is similar to that depicted in another Liber drawing of about the same date showing Dunstanburgh Castle, about a hundred miles to the north on the same coast (Tate D08118; Turner Bequest CXVI Q).
The composition is recorded, as ‘5[:] 3 Coast of Yorkshire’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)5 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.6 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Coast of Yorkshire’, in a list of ‘Marine’ subjects (Tate D12164; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 27a).7
Herrmann 1968, pp.89–90 no.66, pl.XLII D.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–8 no.52; 1906, pp.125–8 no.52; Finberg 1924, pp.205–8 no.52.
Herrmann 1968, p.90; see also Brooke 1885, p.83.
Forrester 1996, p.73.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Rawlinson 1878, p.53.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

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