Joseph Mallord William Turner

Preliminary Study for ‘Calais Pier, with French Poissards Preparing for Sea: An English Packet Arriving’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Chalk on paper
Support: 436 × 271 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXXI 58

Catalogue entry

The subject is continued on folio 31 recto opposite (D04961; Turner Bequest LXXXI 59). Although only tenuously related to the finished picture (the distant packet–boat occupies roughly its final position), this probably represents Turner’s initial idea for the composition of the painting Calais Pier, with French Poissards Preparing for Sea: An English Packet Arriving, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803 (National Gallery, London).1
The painting is clearly a reminiscence, recording a difficult or dangerous moment on a journey, such as Turner loved recalling, and was to make on various occasions in the future, notably on his journeys over the Alps; the watercolours Snowstorm, Mont Cenis of 1820 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)2 and Messieurs les voyageurs on their Return from Italy (par la diligence) in a Snow Drift upon Mount Tarrar – 22nd of January, 1829 of 1829 (British Museum, London)3 both depict coaching accidents in the snow. However, it is to be noted that the final composition of Calais Pier, while depicting very choppy conditions, makes nothing of the personal danger that Turner found himself in as he arrived in France: the title refers only to ‘French poissards preparing for sea’ and the ‘English packet arriving’. Nevertheless, the flapping sail that plays so central a role in the picture is already present in this drawing.
Other sketches based on Turner’s adventures at Calais are on folios 36 verso, 37 recto, 38 verso–41 recto, 42 recto, 52 verso–53 recto and 77 recto (D04972, D04973, D04976–D04981, D04983, D05004–D05005, D05053; Turner Bequest LXXXI 70, 71, 74–79, 81, 102–3, 151). The last of these adumbrates the complete composition of the painting.
It is possible that the disjointed white chalk scribbles in the top part of the two pages here, rather than indicating clouds in a manner quite distinct from the rest of the image, are a separate drawing, perhaps a landscape subject with figures.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.37–8 no.48, pl.58 (colour).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.345 no.402, reproduced.
Ibid., p.345 no.405, pl.208.

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