Joseph Mallord William Turner

Cowes from the East; a Rowing Boat and Sailing Ships; Figures in a Rowing Boat


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 74 × 100 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCVII 21

Catalogue entry

At the top, below a sky full of rain clouds, the tall tower is that of St Mary’s Church, designed by Turner’s Isle of Wight architect host John Nash in 1816 (although all but the tower was rebuilt in 1867);1 the viewpoint is across the River Medina from below Nash’s home, East Cowes Castle (see under folio 22 recto; D18030). This sketch was the basis of the watercolour Cowes, Isle of Wight (private collection),2 engraved in 1830 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04556, T06086, T06087). Compare the view in the contemporary Windsor and Cowes, Isle of Wight sketchbook (Tate D20662; Turner Bequest CCXXVI 40a), which focuses on the right-hand half from the church northwards in more detail. Despite the weather carefully recorded on the present page, the watercolour unusually shows a scene at dusk, with the shipping dark against the pale afterglow under a new moon with a zigzag, rippling reflection. It seems just possible that Turner took this effect from his sketch of Southampton under similar conditions on folio 64 recto (D18113).
Elsewhere in this sketchbook, the study of the bows of a warship on folio 11 verso (D18010) seems likely to have used for those shown at the right of the finished composition; more speculatively, other aspects might be based on the silhouetted stern and rigging on folio 14 verso (D18016), the bows and bowsprit on folio 15 verso (D18018), the buoy on folio 20 recto (D18026), the moored warship on folio 20 verso opposite (D18027), and the bows and stern on folio 25 recto (D18036).
Below are a foreshortened study of a rowing boat and two profiles of ships under sail. At the bottom left is a continuation of the sketch of figures in a rowing boat on folio 20 verso opposite (D18027). For more on studies in this sketchbook relating to the regatta events at Cowes from late July 1827 onwards, see the sketchbook Introduction.

Matthew Imms
December 2014

See ‘About the Building’, Welcome to St Mary the Virgin Church, Cowes, accessed 15 December 2014,
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.395 no.818, reproduced.

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