Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ships off Greenwich


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXI 9 a

Catalogue entry

Greenwich is identifiable in this study of ships on the Thames by the distinctive twin domes of the Royal Naval College in the background. Turner obviously took an interest in this two-masted vessel as it is drawn again from the port side towards the stern on folio 8 verso (D18537; Turner Bequest CCXI 8a), and from the starboard side on folio 11 (Tate D18542; Turner Bequest CCXI 11). There is also a sketch of the bow with an eagle figurehead on folio 12 (Tate D18543; Turner Bequest CCXI 12).
Ian Warrell has noted that these studies are similar in style to sketches made by Turner in the King’s Visit to Edinburgh sketchbook 1822 (Tate D17508–D17671; D40687–D40688; Turner Bequest CC complete sketchbook); raising the possibility that these drawings were either made in relation to that tour in 1822, or that they originally belonged to the Scottish sketchbook.1 The style and approach is certainly similar, with Turner paying close attention to details of the boat’s anatomy such as the masts, rigging and figurehead, and his notation of colours. Compare in particular folio 12 in the present book with the sketch of the Royal George in the King’s Visit sketchbook (Tate D17514; Turner Bequest CC 4).
If these sketches are connected to Turner’s visit to Scotland in 1822, undertaken to record George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, then the vessel depicted must be one of the boats of the Royal Squadron which departed Greenwich on the afternoon tide of 10 August.2 If so, there is no sign of the pomp and pageantry or the crowds that flocked to Greenwich to see the spectacle, suggesting that Turner must have made his sketches several days before the departure date, which was originally expected to have taken place two days earlier.3 This would explain how he was able to get to Edinburgh to sketch the arrival of the Royal Squadron on 14 August. (See George IV’s Visit to Edinburgh 1822 tour introduction for more information).

Thomas Ardill
February 2013

Warrell 1999, pp.24, 253 note 42.
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.67.

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