Technique and condition
This painting on cream wove drawing paper has a very detailed drawing in graphite pencil which depicts the entire composition with the exception of the masts, which have been painted in using a fine brush. Coloured washes were applied more freely, and the details of faces and costumes were created used colour alone. Whites in the painting have been created by leaving blank areas and allowing the paper to show through. The sailors’ costumes were all painted over areas of reserved white, which confers luminosity to these areas. The cloudy sky, in contrast, has overlapping washes to form the sky and grey and purplish clouds.
Pigments used include two red lakes, vermilion, natural ultramarine, and probably indigo and gamboge (deep yellow) or a yellow lake. The first three were used in the sky in combination with the indigo to create the clouds and the choppy water. Such mixed greys, also known as optical blacks, are very common in Turner’s skies and to a reasonable extent also in his seas: he rather rarely depicted grey clouds with a pale wash of black pigment when he was already using other colours in the same work.
Pencil studies related to the subjects on this sheet are Tate D00397 (Turner Bequest XXIII W), D00398 (Turner Bequest XXIII X); another is D40243 (XXIII T 1), to which the present sheet was originally attached. This is the first purely marine subject that Turner tackled. In its almost exclusive concentration on the sea itself (there is a distant glimpse of cliffs at the left), and the behaviour of people in relation to the sea, it anticipates the themes of many of his mature oil paintings. However, related sketches (D00397 and D00398) show him planning to introduce a foreground element: a cart on the shore with a recalcitrant horse, and a man running (compare Tate D00396; Turner Bequest XXIII V). This would be consistent with his ideas for fishing subjects seen from the shore, executed in the early 1800s.
Finberg, however, suggests that the latter drawing is a second idea, following what he sees as an incongruous presentation of the material:
There is one animated little drawing with brown ink outlines of sailors getting some obstreperous pigs on board a small coasting vessel in a strong gale of wind. Apparently the cart has been driven into the sea beside the vessel, an impossible feat in such a sea; the sea must also be too deep for the wheels of the cart to rest on the ground, and if the wheels touch the bottom there is not enough water for the two boats. But in spite of the minor defects the subject provides scope for a fine animated group of men in the cart struggling with the pigs, who have determined to precipitate themselves into the water rather than go where they are wanted.1
The subject is an early instance of Turner’s introducing humour into his record of human activity. A drawing treating similar themes in a slightly different way is on the verso of this sheet (D40053).
Finberg 1910, p.43.