This subject appears out of place in this sketchbook, otherwise devoted to the Rivers Thames and Medway. Turner did draw a ‘Hastings Herring Boat’ on folio 68 verso (D06470; Turner Bequest XCIX 64a), but that leaf is otherwise occupied by a view of Sheerness and Turner need not have studied the vessel in its home waters but elsewhere along the coast as it brought fish to sell elsewhere. He included a Hastings boat in the foreground of his picture Margate of 1808 (Tate T03876; displayed at Petworth House)1 where it is hailed by local fishermen. Like another anomaly in this sketchbook, a drawing seemingly of Walton Bridges (folio 75 recto: D06483; Turner Bequest XCIX 71), the study is more developed, with hatching and shading, than most of the sketches in the book and was perhaps not made on the spot. If it was, Turner must have extended a trip from the mouth of the Thames and round the Kent and Sussex coast, or taken the sketchbook with him on a different occasion.
The popularity of Hastings as a picturesque subject took off in 1808 when Joshua Cristall exhibited a large watercolour of the fish market (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) at the Water Colour Society and prompted ‘a Host of Artists ... to go to Hastings’ as reported by Joseph Farington.2 Thomas Heaphy showed his own watercolour of Hastings (private collection) the following year and sold it for a record 400 guineas. The old fishing port was already being developed as a resort for sea-bathing but its pictorial appeal rested mainly on historical and topographical factors. William the Conqueror had landed nearby in 1066; later, fishermen from this and other Cinque Ports had provided what was effectively England’s first navy and had won special liberties for their communities. Visually, the town was distinctive, for as there was no harbour the fishermen brought their luggers up to the beach, the ‘Stade’, where they sold their catch. It was backed by steep cliffs and housed the cluster of old wooden net stores that survives today.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., new Haven and London 1984, pp.59–60 no.78 (pl.88).
Diary, 11 May 1808, quoted in David Blayney Brown, Sarah Skinner and Ian Warrell, Coasting: Turner and Bonington on the Shores of the Channel, exhibition catalogue, Nottingham Castle 2008, p.17, where Cristall’s watercolour is reproduced in colour pl.7.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.75–6 no.105 (pl.112), as ‘Fishmarket on the Sands – Hastings?’
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.358 no.510.