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Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 191 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 125

Display caption

Turner depicts the town of Melun as it might have been seen by travellers arriving from Paris by steamer. One of these boats is moored alongside the island in the middle distance, its chimney silhouetted against the glowing morning sky. Turner claimed to prefer to study the light of dawn rather than that of sunset because he was able to contemplate an effect for longer without it diminishing. As in the case of his Loire images, many of the Seine views, including this one, have been wrongly identified in the past as evocations of sunset.

Gallery label, June 1999

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Catalogue entry

By William Miller in 1834, published in 1835.
In this watercolour, Turner presents a view of the town of Melun, located in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, France. Melun is situated on an island and over both banks of the River Seine. Turner gives shape to the scene with colour. The tranquil water in the foreground is conveyed in gentle tones of turquoise and umber. The shaded area behind is depicted in cool lilacs and violets, which subtly contrast with the delicate salmon tones of flame from the steamer funnel, and the yellow sky above it. The scene is one of activity, inhabited by figures and boats, yet the still waters and soft colours give a sense of calm. Two silhouetted figures left of lower centre provide a contrasting focal point for the viewer.
The watercolour is based on pencil sketches (Tate D24316,1 D24318–D24321;2 Turner Bequest CCLVII 76a, 77a–79) in Turner’s Paris and Environs sketchbook from 1832.
An engraving was made of this watercolour by William Miller in 1834, as Melun (Tate impressions T04725 and T06263) for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 1835.3 The disk of the sun is made apparent in the engraving.
Wilton 1979, p.417; Warrell 1999, p.278.
Warrell 1999, p.278.
Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1835, opposite p.216.
Previous records note inscriptions in gouache ‘[1]9 Melun’ and in pencil ‘19’; however, the back is currently covered by a closed mount and simply marked ‘No image on the back. Inscription 9 Melun’.

Caroline South
November 2017

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