In contrast to Dartmouth, on the River Dart (Tate D18136; Turner Bequest CCVIII C), the focus of this view is the environs around Dartmouth Castle, a fortification which has guarded the mouth of the Dart estuary in Devon since the end of the fifteenth century. According to the art historian Julius Bryant ‘the prosperous merchants of the town further upstream invested in its erection as a defence against retaliation from local and foreign competitors’.1 Dating from 1494, the castle is situated a mile south of Dartmouth, a town with ‘a natural, deep water anchorage’ and which served as ‘one of the largest ports in England’ when construction on the castle began.2 The fortification was enlarged and rearmed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as part of British artillery lines. The limestone tower of the Church of St Petrox can be seen immediately behind the castle. In the distance, protruding into the estuary on a rocky promontory, is the neighbouring Kingswear Castle.
Sailors can be seen carousing in the foreground, in front of an area of brambled foliage and trees. One shipmate waves enthusiastically towards the river probably in a gesture of camaraderie to fellow sailors; the other is slumped comically on a boulder wearing a rather stupefied expression, likely the result of a night of overindulgence (see the empty bottle next to the swords to the right). Their female companions look less than impressed.
In transit on the placid Dart is a small sailboat navigated by a solitary mariner, and a ship with bright white sails. The rendering of the foliage, trees, and hillside at the left bank displays a complexity and richness of tone and texture achieved through Turner’s stippling technique and meticulous layering of pigment.
For other sketches of Dartmouth Castle, see Turner’s Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (D08786; Turner Bequest CXXIII 237a), which bears some resemblance to the composition in this finished watercolour. In the same sketchbook see: Tate D08365, D08366, D08527, D08783, D08785; Turner Bequest CXXIII 2a, 3, 84, 235a, 237. See also Turner’s Devon Rivers, No.2 sketchbook (Tate D09737; Turner Bequest CXXXIII55). Both the Castle and the tower of the Church of St Petrox appear distantly in the backgrounds of two other watercolour drawings: Dartmouth Cove, with Sailor’s Wedding (private collection) from the England and Wales series of about 1825 and Dartmouth, Devonshire (whereabouts unknown) from the Southern Coast series of about 1811.