Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ships in a Breeze (‘The Egremont Sea Piece’)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 184 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI M

Display caption

This watercolour is a study for one of
the prints in the Liber Studiorum (Book
of Studies). This was an ambitious publication which Turner hoped would demonstrate the range, and improve
the status, of landscape art.


The prints were divided into six different categories of landscape: pastoral,
epic pastoral, historical, mountainous,
marine and architectural. This is a marine landscape, derived from an oil painting called Ships Bearing up for Anchorage, which Turner exhibited in 1802.


Gallery label, September 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
Turner used his oil painting Ships Bearing Up for Anchorage, no.227 in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1802 (Tate T03868; displayed at Petworth House, West Sussex),1 as the basis of the present design for the Liber Studiorum; as indicated in the lettering of the subsequent engraving, the painting belonged by then to Lord Egremont (one of Turner’s greatest patrons), who may have bought it directly from the exhibition and certainly owned it by 1805.2 Other Liber studies (Tate D08168, D08185; Turner Bequest CXVIII e, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII N) relate to Turner’s paintings in Egremont’s collection; as do the unpublished prints Narcissus and Echo,3 for which no drawing is known, and (at one remove, from Turner’s painting based on Egremont’s Claude) Apullia in Search of Appullus4 (see introduction to section of drawings for unpublished Liber designs).
Since there is no record of Turner visiting Petworth between 1805 and the publication of the print, he probably worked from memory, and from his original sketches for the whole composition and individual ships in the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate D04966–D04969, D04974, D04975, D04990, D04991, D05014, D05015, D05017; Turner Bequest LXXXI 64–65, 66–67, 72–73, 88–89, 112–113, 115). He significantly rearranged the vessels in a tighter, more dramatic composition, effectively bringing them from the background to the middle distance by cropping the painting’s wide expanses of sky and sea. In the drawing, a new ship, sailing away on the left, closely echoes the one on the far right, though Turner reduced its scale in the print to give more room for manoeuvre beyond the central, anchored vessel. He introduced even more forceful lighting, with slanting sunbeams at right angles to the rolling masts framing the group.5 A similar, if less conspicuous, focusing process can be seen in his design for Norham Castle on the Tweed (Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D).
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.17 no.18, pl.14 (colour).
Rawlinson 1878, p.168 no.90; 1906, pp.195 no.90; Finberg 1924, pp.359–61 no.90.
Ibid. 1878, pp.144–5 no.72; 1906, pp.169–70 no.72; 1924, pp.287–90 no.72.
Brooke 1885, pp.37–8; see also Spencer-Longhurst 2003, p.46.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.26–7 no.10.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg 1924, pp.25–44.
Forrester 1996, p.57 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop