Joseph Mallord William Turner



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 676 × 1010 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVI C

Technique and condition

This watercolour and pencil sketch on white paper has a rough graphite pencil under-drawing, probably applied after Turner had soaked the paper, then applied pale washes of blue for the sky to the left and the water, and yellow for the sky on the right, and the foreground. Much of the composition was built up using blue or yellow washes, the predominant pigments being Prussian blue and yellow ochre. Some of the washes are toned with Mars red or brown earth pigments, in particular the greyer shades. Alternate washes of yellow and blue have been used to add form and vague detail.
Examination at moderate magnification, up to x40, made it clear that some of the blue and yellow washes were each painted using a single pigment, namely Prussian blue and yellow ochre. The identifications of these materials were in fact confirmed by removed tiny samples the size of a pin-point, and placing them in the sample chamber of a scanning electron microscope, under an X-ray beam. This beam interacts with the elements that make up each pigment, and the resulting spectrum makes it possible to work out which elements are present. Since it is already known that the washes are pure colours, it is then possible to work out exactly which pigment was used in each case. Visual identifications of these materials can then be made on other watercolours, when it is already known from examination at moderate magnification that the wash consists of a pure pigment and not a mixture. In a complex and finished watercolour with multiple overlying washes, it would be foolish to attempt such visual identification.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Catalogue entry

Finberg noted this as an ‘Unfinished version’1 of the ambitious watercolour Scarborough Town and Castle: Morning, Boys Catching Crabs exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide) and initially owned by Turner’s Yorkshire friend and patron Walter Fawkes (see the Introduction to the present section),2 which is on the same scale. The critic and art historian C.L. Hind called it a ‘large, beautiful, and simple sketch’ for that work;3 Andrew Wilton concurs,4 while linking a smaller colour study (Tate D17166; Turner Bequest CXCVI B) to a watercolour of corresponding size, Scarborough: Boys Crab Fishing of 1809 (Wallace Collection, London),5 which had been painted for Fawkes’s relative, the amateur artist and collector Sir William Pilkington (1775–1850).6
The two finished works are very similar in composition, with a steep bank shored up with wooden posts on the left acting as a repoussoir device for the prospect of Scarborough’s bay and castle beyond on the coast of North Yorkshire. Wilton has characterised this study as fundamentally ‘a pale, sandy-gold wash over a large area of paper, expressing the basic idea’ of the exhibited work, with a ‘single hue ... to create and sustain the mood of the whole work’, a principle Turner also began to apply to his oil paintings around this time.7 Robert Upstone has observed that aside from the introduction of ‘anecdotal details’ of children and women on and beside the beach, Turner ‘follows the tonal patterns and lighting of this study, save for some deepening of the shadows in the left foreground’,8 while conservator Joyce Townsend has noted that Turner’s ‘early colour beginnings consist of subtle variations on two colours, such as yellow and blue, which overlap to form an optical green, as can be seen in “Scarborough”’.9
The basic composition is outlined in the 1801 Dunbar sketchbook (Tate D02770–D02771; Turner Bequest LIV 95a–96). David Hill has suggested that the large 1811 variant developed from the Pilkington picture, rather than from the original drawing’.10 Although Turner drew other aspects of the town and its setting in 1801 and around 1816, the watercolour Scarborough of 1818 (private collection)11 is a similar composition, though with more prominent cliffs on the left, while the Ports of England watercolour Scarborough, of about 1825 (Tate D18142; Turner Bequest CCVIII I)12 focuses in on the castle and its headland from a comparable angle.13
Finberg 1909, I, p.599.
Wilton 1979, p.360 no.528, pl.122 (colour).
Hind 1910, p.91.
Wilton 1979, p.360.
Ibid., no.527, reproduced.
See Terry Riggs, ‘Pilkington, Sir William’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.229.
Wilton 1979, p.160.
Upstone 1989, p.32.
Townsend 1993, pp.27–8.
Hill 1980, p.16.
Wilton 1979, p.360 no.529, reproduced.
Ibid., p.387 no.751, reproduced.
See also Hill 1980, p.16.
See Upstone 1989, p.32.
See Joll 1989, p.57.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

Read full Catalogue entry


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