Joseph Mallord William Turner

Details of Shipping and Vessels on the River Medway, Probably at Chatham


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 78

Catalogue entry

Identified by Finberg as ‘Scenes on river’, Turner does indeed display a view of a waterway cluttered with vessels and harbour paraphernalia on this page. Made with the sketchbook inverted relative to its foliation, the drawing to which Finberg’s title relates stretches across most of the width of the sheet, towards the bottom. The majority of the vessels are described at left, the tall masts of a naval ship sketched in lightly and deftly, crossed with yards indicated with a single stroke of Turner’s pencil. In the distance, towards the right amongst the harbour buildings, a thin white tower overlooks the scene. It seems possible that this is the Royal Dockyard Church at Chatham, visible at far left in the watercolour Chatham, from Fort Pitt of about 1830 (private collection)1 engraved in 1832 as part of the ambitious Picturesque Views in England and Wales project of the 1820s and 1830s (Tate impression: T04588). For a list of the identified and presumed scenes of Chatham in this sketchbook, see the entry for folio 22 recto (D17402).
The rest of the page is occupied by smaller drawings of shipping architecture, rendered in a slightly less measured style. At far right, still with the page inverted relative to its foliation, a quick sketch demonstrates the bow of a vessel and heel of the bowsprit. Rough squares to the left of this presumably show where gun ports puncture the hull. Immediately above, and slightly towards the left near the centre of the sheet, another quick drawing appears to describe the bow observed square-on, reducing the bowsprit to a single, vertical beam cutting through the hull, which spreads out on either side.
In the top left corner, an additional brief sketch describes another detail of a ship’s architecture, perhaps a portion of the stern.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.398 no.838.

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