Joseph Mallord William Turner

Scene on the River Medway, at Chatham


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 58 a

Catalogue entry

The drawings on this page have been made with the sketchbook inverted according to its foliation. At the top of the sheet, Turner describes figures in a light craft. At left, presumably the highest ranking officer is seated at a slight remove from the other occupants, distinguished by a broad bicorn hat. These replaced the tricorn style in around 1800, and became a standard part of the full dress uniform for all officers.1 The exaggerated shape of this figure’s right shoulder also indicates the presence of at least one epaulette. These were worn ‘on both shoulders for a captain with three years’ seniority, and on the right shoulder for those with less’.2 They were also part of the uniforms of commodores, admirals, and marines.3 The four additional figures seem to be of lower rank, or at least clothed differently. They wear smaller hats and show no signs of decorative embellishments at their rounded shoulders.
Lower down the page, stretching across at full width, is a sketch of shipping at Chatham on the River Medway. The prospect shows two topographic mounds at left, and Chatham at right, with the river in between populated with boats. St Mary’s church is visible at far right, a landmark featured in many of Turner’s drawings of Chatham in this sketchbook. For a comprehensive list of its appearances, see the entry for folio 51 recto (D17450). This drawing seems to continue across the right hand half of folio 57 verso (D17459), the top right of folio 56 verso (D17457) and the top right of folio 55 verso (D17456) where the topography finally tails off. In the interests of restricted time and space, Turner appears to have slid the present folio to the left in order to reveal a blank portion of the sheet beneath, a process which he evidently repeated until the full panorama had been committed to paper.
For information about the role of Chatham more broadly in this sketchbook and elsewhere, see the entry for folio 22 recto (D17402).
Towards top right, a small crescent is marked in pencil.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Nicholas Blake and Richard Lawrence, The Illustrated Companion to Nelson’s Navy, London 1999, p.78.
Ibid., p.79.
Ibid., pp.78–80.

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