This glowing, golden ‘colour beginning’ of buildings and boats framing the blue sea of a bay brilliantly lit by a low sun was dubbed ‘Temple by the sea’ by Finberg,1 presumably thinking of Turner’s classical seaport paintings in the manner of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), whom he greatly admired and often emulated;2 compare for example The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited in 1817 (Tate N00499).3 The work was duly classified among ‘Ideal (Italianate) Landscapes’ by Eric Shanes,4 but the subject is somewhat closer to home, being based on a pencil drawing in the 1811 Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08732; Turner Bequest CXXIII 202). The present author has catalogued that page as probably showing the small harbour at Minehead, Somerset, with the pier on the left and the quay on the right, looking south-east across Blue Anchor Bay with the Conygar Tower on its hill at Dunster silhouetted at the centre; compare the hill, pale in the haze, immediately to the left of the sun here. The building on the right, barely developed here, also has its equivalent in the drawing, a three-storey structure recorded in a loose manner which, combined with its uneven roofline, suggests a ruined shell.
The more developed colour study of Barnstable Bridge included in this section (Tate D25443; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 320) is in a similar Claude-like mode, with its central sun; it has been linked to the Southern Coast print scheme (see the Introduction to this section) which was the prime motivation for Turner’s 1811 West Country tour, and it is possible that the present work was also an idea for another Southern Coast composition. A watercolour of about 1818 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight)5 was engraved for the series in 1821 as Minehead and Dunster Castle, Somersetshire (Tate impressions: T04404, T05453–T05454, T05987). It shows the view from the other end of the bay, with Minehead in the far distance, based on another Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketch (Tate D08672; Turner Bequest CXXIII 162a), and is worked in similarly bright but harmonious hues.
Finberg 1909, II, p.834.
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
Shanes 1997, p.98.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg, p.353 no.469, reproduced.