Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dartmouth, on the River Dart


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 157 × 226 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCVIII C

Display caption

This watercolour was prepared as the basis of a print to be included in a series called The Rivers of England (1822–26). This was one of many publications that helped establish a new vision of the national scenery, that now encompassed modern industry and urbanisation.

The emphasis in this image is on a sense of dynamism in the landscape, with the plunging angles leading down to the furious activity in the shipyards. But the image also allows for the details of mundane human activity in the figure of the milkman on his rounds at the right.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

A bright morning sun illuminates the town of Kingswear on the banks of the River Dart in this, one of two drawings of Dartmouth, produced for the Rivers of England series. The other is Dartmouth Castle, on the River Dart (Tate D18137; Turner Bequest CCVIII D). Indeed, four of the watercolours engraved for this series depicted sites in Devon. Ian Warrell has suggested that ‘the prominence of views from this county may be due to the abundance of material gathered by Turner during his tour of the west of England in 1811’.1
Turner depicts a scene of everyday activity: a milkman making his early rounds on the right, his milkpans and a vivid red hoop adding diverting incident to the foreground. Pack-mules loaded with cumbersome sacks are being led through a narrow winding street; they are presumably making their way to the ‘pannier-market’ regularly held in the town for the sale of produce from remote farms. A milkmaid can be seen poking her head through an open archway surveying this stream of traffic. To the left of a concertina of ramshackle rooftops are the shipyards: conspicuous by the row of skeletal frames of the hulls being worked on by shipwrights. Here Turner points to Dartmouth’s shipbuilding legacy: in 1826 alone no fewer than nineteen vessels were constructed there.2 Down from the yards, in the distance and on the right, the hazy form of the tower of the Church of St Petrox can be seen, adjacent to the castle.
A pencil drawing found in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook of 1811 (Tate D08788; Turner Beqest CXXIII 239) seems to have informed this work. This sketchbook was one of a number compiled in the West Country constituting the foundation of Turner’s research for his Picturesque Views for the Southern Coast of England watercolours.
Regarding the drawing’s painterly execution, Eric Shanes writes that like a number of watercolours in the Rivers and Ports of England series, this drawing ‘is notable for the amount of stippling it contains’ which serves to ‘increase the textural vibrancy of the work’ and creates ‘an effect that is equivalent to the surface vibrancy of oil paint dragged across the tooth of a canvas’.3

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

Warrell 1994, p.126, no.34.
Shanes 1990, p.109, no.84 reproduced (colour).

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