Joseph Mallord William Turner

Shipping by a Breakwater


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 302 × 194 mm
frame: 386 × 273 × 38 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner was interested in marine subjects from an early age. He first made drawings of sea-going ships while visiting relatives at Margate at the age of about ten. Years later, when shown a print after the seventeenth-century Dutch marine artist Willem van de Velde, he is said to have declared, 'That made me a painter'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

33. [N00469] Shipping by a Breakwater c. 1798

Mahogany, 11 7/8 × 7 5/8 (30·3 ×19·4)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (98, ‘Marine Subject’ 1'0" ×0'7 1/2"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. Tate Gallery 1931 (7); R.A. 1974–5 (33).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 262; 1877, p. 418; Armstrong 1902, p. 231; MacColl 1920, p. 4; Davies 1946, p. 187.

Not so far as is known directly related either to a watercolour sketch or drawing on the one hand, nor to a larger oil painting on the other; this picture seems to be an independent composition in its own right. Formerly dated c. 1802, it seems very tentative by the side of the sea studies in the ‘Calais Pier’ sketchbook of that year (LXXXI) and is close to watercolour or gouaches in the ‘Wilson’ and ‘Academical’ sketchbooks (XXXVII and XLIII; examples repr. Wilkinson 1972, pp. 57 and 82–3); these sketchbooks can both be dated c. 1798.

There are pentimenti just below the bow of the nearest boat. The paint has been damaged along the top edge of the painting where it has been covered by the frame.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984


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