Joseph Mallord William Turner

High Clouds at Dawn or Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 302 × 439 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 137

Catalogue entry

Finberg described this as an ‘evening’ subject, though it might alternatively be dawn, with the high clouds in silhouetted against the bright sky but touched with red, the effect heightened by the contrast with the golden glow of the overall wash,1 as discussed in the technical notes. Compare the similarly coloured clouds, also laid in ‘wet-in-wet’, in Tate D25259 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 137).
In regarding this sheet as dating from the late 1820s, Ian Warrell has noted that such studies, with their ‘understanding gained through the kind of colour chiaroscuro’ seen here, informed the ‘richness’2 of the skies in paintings of the period such as Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey, exhibited in 1829 (Turner Bequest, National Gallery, London),3 as well as informing the atmospheric effects of topographical watercolours in the Rivers of England and Picturesque Views in England and Wales series of the 1820s and 1830s.4
In the light of Finberg’s suggestion that this sheet is uniform with three others which may have come from a sketchbook (see the technical notes below), Eric Shanes has noted that one of them (Tate D25260; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 138) bears an 1811 watermark. Given the range of possible dates for a Yorkshire landscape identified among them (Tate D25255; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 133) from 1816 through to 1825 or later, Shanes and has discussed various possibilities regarding the present work ‘any time between the late 1810s and the mid-1820s’.5 He has compared the ‘idealised clouds’6 in paintings such as Dido Building Carthage, exhibited in 1815 (Turner Bequest, National Gallery, London),7 The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited in 1817 (Tate N00499), 8 Dort, or Dordrecht, exhibited in 1818 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)9 and Entrance to the Meuse, exhibited in 1819 (Tate N00501).10 The generic default date of c.1820–40 noted in the Introduction to this subsection has thus been modified in this instance.
Warrell has noted this work as among those ‘grouped in a parcel of twenty sheets by John Ruskin when he was engaged in selecting watercolours to display at the National Gallery, and which he designated “Colour effects. Finer” ... presumably finer than many of the other unfinished private studies which he considered “valueless”.’11
See also Warrell 1991, p.41.
Warrell 1991, p.11.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.183–5 no.330, pl.331 (colour).
Warrell 1991, p.41.
Shanes 1997, p.38.
See Shanes 1997, p.91 note 7.1
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.94–6 no.131, pl.133 (colour).
Ibid., pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
Ibid., pp.102–4 no.137, pl.140 (colour).
Ibid., pp.105–6 no.139, pl.143 (colour).
Warrell 1991, p.41.
See Finberg 1909, II, p.825.
See Shanes 1997, p.25; for an extended transcription of Leitch’s description, see ibid., p.23.
Ibid., p.38.

Matthew Imms
March 2016

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