Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Rye or the Coast near Dunstanbrough Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 308 × 488 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 8

Display caption

Turner may have made this study of driving rain as the preliminary stage for a more finished watercolours. This was often his practice with the subjects engraved in the series of Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1825-38). It has been suggested that the scene is Lancaster Sands, which was known for its dangerous tides and quicksands, and was recorded by Turner in two watercolours full of local incident (now in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and the British Museum). However, the colours and structure of this design could also relate to the England and Wales view of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall (University of Liverpool).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Finberg proposed that this colour study shows Lancaster Sands. Turner made the potentially hazardous crossing of Morecambe Bay at low tide when returning from the Lake District in 1816,1 and subsequently made a first version of the subject in his watercolour Lancaster Sands of about 1818 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery),2 with its obscuring rain and consequent lack of specific topography in the distance. The version of about 1826 (British Museum, London),3 engraved in 1828 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04534, T04535), shows brighter conditions and the Lake District mountains across the horizon. Both show a combination of beach and shallow tidal seawater in the foreground with which the present study might be compared, but the hills rising to the left do not correspond to either finished watercolour and the identification can be fairly readily discounted. For a possible Lancaster Sands ‘colour beginning’ see Tate D25132 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 10).
Eric Shanes has suggested that this work shows Rye, as an undeveloped subject for England and Wales, 4 presumably as a variant on the early 1820s watercolour Rye, Sussex (National Museum Wales, Cardiff),5 engraved in 1824 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Tate impressions: T04407, T04408, T05270–T05273, T05989). The Southern Coast watercolour shows a flood on the River Brede during construction of the junction of the Royal Military Canal just outside Winchelsea, looking east towards Rye on its hill to the left and Camber Castle and the low-lying ground towards the coast on the right.6 The swirling waters and distant rising ground to the left correspond, although the correlation may be fortuitous.
Dunstanburgh Castle, on its promontory above the coast of Northumberland, has also been suggested as the subject.7 Turner first visited the coastal ruin in 1797 and produced watercolours and paintings of it until as late as 1834, including a watercolour design of about 1806–7 for the Liber Studiorum (Tate D08118; Turner Bequest CXVI Q) under which the various versions are discussed in detail. Although many show the castle on the rising skyline to the left with the sea to the right in the foreground, an arrangement loosely comparable to the present study, there seems little to indicate the castle itself here. For a possible Dunstanburgh colour study, see Tate D25313 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 191).
See David Hill, In Turner’s Footsteps: Through the Hills and Dales of Northern England, London 1984, pp.84–5.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.367 no.581, reproduced.
Ibid., p.393 no.803, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, pp.95, 104.
Wilton 1979, pp.353–4 no.471, reproduced.
See Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, p.62.
Warrell and others 2002, p.93; Warrell and others 2003, p.102; Richter-Musso 2011, pp.46, 148, 160.
Richter-Musso 2011, p.148.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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