Joseph Mallord William Turner

Portsmouth; Preparatory Study


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 165 × 249 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCIII A

Display caption

While the 'Rivers of England' was still in production, the engraver Thomas Lupton and Turner embarked on a similar series of mezzotints initially referred to as the 'Harbours of England', but termed the 'Ports of England' when published. Turner completed fourteen watercolours of what should have been a group of twenty-four and only three parts of the publication were issued. The work achieved a kind of completion in 1856 when all the watercolours associated with the project were finally engraved by Lupton and published accompanied by a text by John Ruskin. There are preparatory studies for several of the watercolours, such as that of Portsmouth.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

This drawing is a preparatory colour study for Portsmouth in the Ports of England series (Tate D18152; Turner Bequest CCVIII S). The rectilinear profile of the Admiralty Semaphore towers can be seen with the cupola crowning a tower on the right. The dilute red used to highlight these buildings remains in the final design.
At sea, a man-of-war has been roughly sketched out in pencil and grey wash. In comparison to the finished design where the vessel dominates the view, it is here much diminished in scale. A cutter has been marked out loosely on the left, conspicuous by the curving sweep of its diagonally pitched sail. In the final design the cutter is smaller in size and positioned in front of the Semaphore at the right. Significantly less of the harbour can be seen in this study.
The murky green-grey of the sea in the foreground, which turns to blue as the view recedes, is preserved in the finished design. Less attention has been paid here to rendering wave formations; rather the purpose of this preliminary work is to experiment with colour and tone, to produce, as Ian Warrell writes, a ‘diagrammatic colour structure’ and to clarify the relationship between parts of the composition to the whole.1
The sky is loosely filled in with daubs and dry strokes of blue wash; the same elliptically shaped puff of cumuli drawing attention to the key compositional feature of man-of-war appears in both preliminary and finished designs.
Warrell 1991, p.35, no.18 reproduced.
The verso of this sheet has a rough watercolour sketch of the coast at Brighton looking along to the Old Chain Pier built in 1823 (see Tate D22773; Turner Bequest CCXLIV 111 and the 1828 oil painting Tate N02064).1

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013


Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop