Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ships Bearing up for Anchorage (‘The Egremont Seapiece’)

exhibited 1802

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Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1120 × 1830 mm
frame: 1660 × 2273 × 190 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

18. [T03868] Ships bearing up for Anchorage Exh. 1802
known as The Egremont Seapiece

Canvas, 47 × 71 (119·5 × 180·3)
Signed ‘J M W Turner pinx’ lower right

Coll. Bought from Turner by George, third Earl of Egremont (1751–1837) possibly in 1802 at the R.A. but in any case he owned it by 1805 (see below); by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. R.A. 1802 (227); R.A. 1892 (131); Tate Gallery 1951 (5); R.A. 1951–2 (182); Agnew English Pictures from National Trust Houses 1965 (30); Brussels 1973 (63); R.A. 1974–5 (72).

Engr. By Charles Turner in the Liber Studiorum, published 20 February 1808, entitled ‘Ships in a Breeze’. (Rawlinson 10. There are considerable differences from the original, which no doubt account for the alteration in the title as the ships are no longer ‘bearing up for anchorage’ in the print, the composition of which is a good deal more concentrated. There is a drawing for the print in the Turner Bequest CXVI-M.)

Lit. Petworth inventories 1837, 1856 (North Gallery); Burnet and Cunningham 1852, p. 111 no. 70; Waagen 1854, ii, p. 37; Thornbury 1862, ii, pp. 5, 397; 1877, pp. 98, 199, 200, 570, 594; Bell 1901, p. 79 no. 98; Armstrong 1902, p. 230; Collins Baker 1920, p. 123 no. 33; Finberg 1924, p. 39; 1961, pp. 79, 465 no. 76; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 16 pl. 18; Reynolds 1969, p. 46; Wilkinson 1972, pp. 143, 154; Joll 1977, pp. 375–6; Wilton 1979, p. 82, colour pl. 68; Gage 1980, p. 250; Ziff 1980, p. 168.

There are a good many studies for this picture, some of them of great beauty, in the Turner Bequest, mainly in the ‘Calais Pier’ sketchbook (LXXXI): pp. 64–5, 66–7 (left-hand part of composition only), 72–3 (the most finished study, reproduced inside the front covers of Wilkinson), 88–9, 112–13, 115. Some of these are inscribed in Turner's hand ‘Ld. Egremont's Picture’ when he evidently went through the sketchbook in 1805 (a number of drawings are inscribed: ‘Study not painted 1805’ which fixes the date). Further preparatory drawings occur in the ‘Dolbadarn’ sketchbook (XLVI), on pp. 114, 115 and 118. There are some much slighter studies in the ‘Studies for Pictures’ sketchbook (LXIX) pp. 29–32, 40 verso–41, 91. In some cases the connection is clear, in others more tenuous. These drawings emphasise the care Turner took over the composition which, in its finished state, does perfectly illustrate the title, showing in detail ships sailing, coming up into the wind, shortening sail and dropping anchor. Professor Bachrach has drawn my attention to the similarity between the ship at anchor (although Turner has shown it as greatly elongated) and a model of a ship which Turner owned (now in the Tate Gallery).

This picture attracted almost no attention when at the R.A., the critics concentrating mainly on The Tenth Plague (No. 17 [N00470]) and after that on Fishermen on a Lee-Shore (No. 16) and the watercolours of Scotland. The only paper to mention it was the Daily Advertiser and Oracle for 5 May which wrote: ‘That which struck us amidst the crowd and bustle which prevail at the first opening of the Academy as the best, is a scene with ships beating up to gain anchorage. It is indeed a most forcible and judicious performance, well drawn and admirably coloured.’

Such neglect seems extraordinary after the attention paid to the Bridgewater Seapiece the previous year (see No. 14), especially as this great early masterpiece goes even beyond its predecessor in its dramatic rendering of a stormy sky and turbulent sea.

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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