Joseph Mallord William Turner


exhibited 1808

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Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 900 × 1205 mm
frame: 1247 × 1551 × 175 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

78. [T03876] Margate Exh. 1808

Canvas, 35 1/2 × 47 1/4 (90·1 × 120·6)

Coll. Bought by Lord Egremont perhaps from Turner's gallery in 1808; 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 1808; Tate Gallery 1951 (18) as ‘Seapiece, probably Hastings’.

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (London House); Armstrong 1902, p. 237; Collins Baker 1920, p. 126 no. 672; Finberg 1961, pp. 147, 469 no. 123; Shanes 19812, pp. 26–7.

This is another example of Turner's title for a picture getting lost. In the 1856 Petworth Inventory it was listed simply as ‘Seapiece’. Armstrong catalogued it as ‘Whitby (?) from the Sea’ and Collins Baker, misled no doubt by the fishing smack on the left having ‘Hastings’ on its stern, assumed that the scene represented was Hastings.

The identification of this picture with the ‘Margate’ exhibited in 1808, rests on John Landseer's (?) description of it in the Review of Publications of Art, June 1808. Landseer writes as follows:

‘We had not imagined that any VIEW of MARGATE, under any circumstances, would have made a picture of so much importance as that which Mr. Turner has painted of this subject: but, by introducing a rising sun and a rough sea; by keeping the town of Margate itself in a morning mist from which the pier is emerging; and by treating the cliffs as a bold promontory in shade, he has produced a grand picture; and (while he contrasts the prevailing horizontal forms of the composition by the lines of upright masts and rigging) has given a special interest to his fore-ground by introducing the local incident of Margate wherries hailing and stopping a Hastings boat on her way to the London market, to purchase fish... The detail of the town and cliffs, being lost at the early hour which is represented, in the mistiness of the morning, and only the bolder forms being discernible, Margate acquires a grandeur we should in vain look for at any other time and under any other circumstances. The mill and brewery on the summit of the cliff behind which the sun is rising, from their general forms alone being visible become objects of great interest in the landscape— appearing like magnificent temples.’

The main discrepancy between this description and the picture itself is that in the latter no pier is discernible ‘emerging from the morning mist’ but there is perhaps the suspicion of a projecting quay which may have misled Landseer. Nor could the sea be fairly described as rough; Armstrong calls it ‘fresh’ which seems more accurate. Against this, the incident in the foreground of the Hastings fishing smack and the Margate wherries surely provides the crucial evidence which must override all reasonable doubts about identifying this picture with the ‘Margate’ exhibited in 1808. The picture must have darkened a good deal, especially in the water, since it was painted, and this may account for certain features mentioned by Landseer being less easily discernible today.

Further confirmation of this identification is given, as Eric Shanes points out, by the watercolour of c. 1822 done for Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Yale Center; Wilton 1969, p. 353 no. 470, repr., and Shanes loc. cit., colour pl. 36). This, though considerably later, shows much the same view. For an oil sketch possibly if not probably done on the spot c. 1806–7, again showing much the same view but from a nearer vantage point with different foreground detail, see No. 174 [N02700].

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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