Joseph Mallord William Turner

Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight from Portsdown Hill


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXVII 36

Catalogue entry

Subsequent to Finberg’s 1909 Inventory, he noted a possible refinement to his identification of this drawing as a ‘View of the Solent’1 as ‘?Portsmouth Road, descent to Portsea Island | JPH’.2 The initials are those of the etcher and collector John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929), whose occasionally suggestions are noted in copies of the Inventory at Tate Britain (another case being in relation to folio 16 verso; D20757).
The viewpoint is probably on or near the London Road around the crest of Portsdown Hill, looking south-west to Portsmouth (on Portsea Island) in the centre, with the hulls and masts of ships indicated on a minute scale towards the right, and the undulations of the Isle of Wight beyond the Solent on the skyline.
The rough forms in the foreground presumably indicate one of the chalk pits which were formerly worked on the south face of the escarpment, perhaps the one beside the main road now landscaped as Cliffdale Gardens; there is a designated viewpoint above this feature along Portsdown Hill Road near Fort Widley. There are apparently figures or pack animals lower down at the bottom right, and possibly a nearer group of figures overlooking the scene at the centre left. There are nineteenth-century paintings of this view with rough chalk workings by the side of the road in the Portsmouth Museums collection: The London Road, Portsdown Hill of 1867 by George Cole (1810–1883) and View from Portsdown Looking towards Portsea Island by William James Callcott (c.1823–1900).
The squarish building towards the bottom right is apparently also seen on folio 31 verso (D20777; Turner Bequest CCXXVII 29), where aspects of the same vista are shown; for various views of Portsmouth scattered through this sketchbook, see under folio 10 recto (D20768).
Finberg 1909, II, p.699.
Undated MS notes by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, II, opposite p.699.
Technical notes:
The grey wash common to all the rectos in this sketchbook has been delicately scratched out with horizontal strokes to suggest sparkling reflections from the harbour and sea, catching the light of the bright afternoon sun which has been formed by rubbing away a small area of wash in the sky.

Matthew Imms
November 2015

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