Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dover from the West


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 185 × 225 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 269

Catalogue entry

This delicate colour study of a silhouetted castle and cliffs was identified by Ian Warrell as showing Dover from the west, in unpublished notes acknowledged by Eric Shanes.1 Warrell subsequently associated the work with the Southern Coast scheme2 (see the Introduction to this section), specifically Dover from Shakespeare’s Cliff, a currently untraced watercolour of about 1824,3 engraved in 1826 (Tate impressions: T04424, T05246–T05251).
Alice Rylance-Watson’s entry for Ports of England watercolour Dover of about 1825 (Tate D18154; Turner Bequest CCVIII U)4 includes a comprehensive listing of Turner’s many depictions of the Kent port and its surroundings. The composition here is closely comparable to the depiction of the castle, chalk cliffs and low-lying harbour complex in the background of the finished Southern Coast design, where the major difference is in the introduction of more cliffs and the defensive earthworks of the Western Heights in the foreground,5 animated by a prominent redcoat sentry and a heavy horse-drawn cart crossing a precarious bridge. Turner would also alter the time of day, so that the hillside below the castle, in early morning shade here, is illuminated by afternoon sun from the left. See the entry for Tate D36118 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 271) regarding a similar change.
Thomas Ardill has described the present work as probably ‘an experiment representing an early stage in the artist’s thinking about the subject’, and its abandonment ‘may indicate that it had by then served its purpose and convinced him that the composition needed to be significantly altered, or that the colour range was wrong.’6 Nevertheless, he characterises it as possessing ‘breadth, simplicity and a light palette that makes it effective in its own right and comparable in appearance to some of the very economical representations Turner made in Venice in 1819.’7
See Shanes 1997, p.95.
See Warrell 2002, p.133, and Warrell 2003, p.151.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.355 no.483, reproduced.
Ibid., p.387 no.753, reproduced.
See Ardill 2009, p.81.
Technical notes:
There is a red colour test at the bottom centre.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘D25392’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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