Joseph Mallord William Turner

Hulks on the Tamar

?exhibited 1812

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Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 892 × 1202 mm
frame: 131 × 162 × 17 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

119. [T03881] Hulks on the Tamar Exh. 1812?

Canvas, 35 1/2 × 47 1/2 (90·2 × 120·6)
Signed ‘JMW Turner RA’ bottom right

Coll. Bought by the third Earl of Egremont, perhaps from Turner's gallery in 1812 (see below); by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. ?Turner's gallery 1812; Tate Gallery 1951 (16).

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (London House); Armstrong 1902, pp. 109, 233, repr. facing p. 75; Collins Baker 1920, p. 126 no. 656; Hussey 1925, p. 976 repr.; Finberg 1961, pp. 190–91, 474 no. 170; Joll 1977, pp. 375, 376.

Repr. Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pl. 50.

Drawings of this subject occur on pp. 6 and 7 in the ‘Ivy Bridge to Penzance’ sketchbook (CXXV) in use in the summer of 1811. However, they are not really at all close to the composition of the picture, and the connection between them, suggested by Finberg, seems most doubtful. Other drawings of hulks on a river are in the ‘Devon Rivers’ sketchbook (CXXXIII), dated 1812–15 by Finberg. That on p. 28 verso, listed by Finberg as ‘Hulks in Plymouth Sound’, resembles the oil more closely than the others, but cannot claim to be a study for it. A watercolour in the Turner Bequest, although catalogued as ‘Hulks on the Tamar’ (CXCVI-E, repr. in colour by Wilkinson 1974, p. 135), is also only marginally related, as Finberg recognised.

Dated c. 1811 by Collins Baker, there are traces of what may have been a date following the signature, but they are now indecipherable. Finberg suggests that this picture may be identified with the picture exhibited in Turner's gallery in 1812 as ‘The River Plym’, one of the seven new landscapes mentioned in the review of the exhibition in the Sun of 9 June (see No. 118). There is no evidence for this, and the traditional title may be thought to gainsay it. On the other hand, there is no trace at all of the picture The River Plym since 1812 and the titles of Turner's pictures are often confused or changed with the passage of time. Instances of this among the Turners at Petworth have already been noted under No. 118. Lord Egremont would certainly have been familiar with the pictures exhibited in 1812 as he bought the Teignmouth (No. 120) shown that year. In any case, whether exhibited or not, this picture must date from c. 1812 on stylistic grounds. Similarities in the painting of the figures with those in St Mawes (No. 123 [N00484]), for instance, are very close.

According to the National Trust records, the condition of this picture ‘must be assumed to be irrecoverable’ since it fell into the hands of an overzealous restorer in 1931. The surface is certainly now very much flattened and the subtle gradations of tone and colour are no longer more than faintly discernible.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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