Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of the Suffolk Coast: Orford, Aldeburgh and Southwold


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 1 a

Catalogue entry

While travelling to and from his destinations Turner always took the opportunity to look out for interesting locations, and new visual experiences. His first sea journey to Edinburgh (apparently aboard a Collier Brig)1 therefore afforded him a novel experience, not only taking him to new parts of the British coast, but, by allowing him to see them all in just a few days, to connect them up into a detailed mental map and sketched record (see folios 1 verso–3 verso, 4 verso, 5, 7 verso and 8; D17513, D17515, D17516, D17521, D17522). Although the Picturesque Views on the East Coast of England project would not be initiated for another four or five years, the artist was mindful of the opportunity to record so much of the coastline, and his method for doing so reveals his methodical but practical approach.
From South Suffolk to North Berwick Turner made scores of tiny panoramic sketches of the coast, often less than a centimetre high and usually using the full width of the page (about 11 cm with the sketchbook turned to the portrait format); there are often eight or nine sketches to a page. A mile or two of coastline is often represented with just one or two subtly undulating lines, and most landmarks (church towers, lighthouses, windmills, castles) are reduced to the simplest geometric shapes (a square and triangle, a narrow cone, an ‘x’, a few boxes), while the landscape and its landmarks are never generalised. Busy towns such as Great Yarmouth (folios 2 and 2 verso; D17510, D17511), rocky cliffs on the North Yorkshire coast (folio 87; D17662) and new sights for Turner such as Holy Island (folio 4 verso; D17515) warrant more attention with numerous drawings from different angles and more architectural and topographical detail. Novel and impressive phenomena, such as a sunrise over the water (see folio 3; D17512) or a glimpse of dolphins, (folio 83; D17654) are also recorded with zeal.
Working forwards through the sketchbook and down the page as he journeyed north, and again towards the end of the book on his return south (though there are enough exceptions to make this a trend rather than a rule), his recorded journey begins on the present page with views along the Suffolk coast.

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, p.277.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, pp.200–1.

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