Joseph Mallord William Turner

Shipping on the River Medway at Rochester


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 21

Catalogue entry

Like many of the surrounding leaves of this sketchbook, the page here is occupied with a description of the River Medway at Rochester.1 At left the spire of the Cathedral is clearly visible, with the Castle tower lightly outlined at centre and Rochester Bridge stretching across the water at far right. The view is dominated by boats which occupy the water, and a cluster of several of these obscures a view of the town.
Finberg included a reproduction of this page, alongside another of folio 18 recto (D17394), in his book Turner’s Sketches and Drawings.2 These examples were illustrative of his conviction that within the Medway sketchbook Turner’s process of composition is laid bare.3 Finberg describes earlier drawings in the sketchbook as direct records of topographic features at Rochester, which here begin to morph into a group with ‘systematic unity’.4 Speaking of this prospect specifically, he expresses that, ‘Turner is trying a different arrangement of the material, or, to put it more accurately, nature is trying another effect, and Turner is watching and making notes of the experiment’.5 This statement refers to the drawing’s relationship to the watercolour Rochester, on the River Medway, of 1822 (Tate D18156; Turner Bequest CCVIII W),6 which was engraved by Thomas Lupton for the Rivers of England series and published in January 1824 (Tate impressions T06370, T04796–T04798). Turner appears to have scrutinised many of the elements that comprise this later painting within the pages of the Medway sketchbook.
For a comprehensive list of studies made at Rochester in this sketchbook, and an indication of those thought directly to have informed the later watercolour, see the entry for folio 18 recto (D17394).

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Finberg 1909, I, p.608.
Finberg 1910, pp.108–9, pl.LXII (b)
Ibid., p.108.
Ibid., p.109.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.385 no.735, reproduced.

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