Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Ives from the Island


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 141 × 215 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXV a 47

Catalogue entry

Turner’s view is almost due south from below the present lookout station on the eastern side of the Island (St Ives Head), over the harbour and parish church to the turrets of Tregenna Castle (now a hotel, obscured by trees from this viewpoint) above Porthminster Point, with Carbis Bay in the distance on the left. Porthgwidden Beach, in the left foreground, is now hemmed in by various buildings, breakwaters and a car park. Porthmeor Beach curves away to the right, with the site of the future Tate St Ives a little beyond the edge of this drawing.
The narrow pyramid set prominently at the highest point in the distance is the monument which John Knill (1733–1811) built to himself on Worvas Hill, originally intending it as his mausoleum. Having left London on his two-month West Country only in mid-July, Turner presumably missed the third of the quinquennial ceremonies instituted by this former Mayor of St Ives on 25 July 1801, involving maidens dancing round the monument in the presence of the mayor, vicar and others; the ritual continues to the present day.1
This is the first in a sequence of four detailed drawings of St Ives and its surroundings (see also folios 48, 49 and 50 recto; D41327–D41329), the identification of which has been credited to the contemporary St Ives artist Roy Ray;2 there is a further view bound towards the end of the book (folio 82 recto; D41364). Turner did not develop a finished composition from them, but his brief visit is often seen as an important event in the early history of the town’s development as an artists’ colony.3
As discussed in the introduction, the pages of this ‘sketchbook’ appear to have originally been loose sheets, and are not recorded in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory of the Bequest, although he subsequently noted the subject mistakenly as ‘Penzance (?)’ in a manuscript listing,4 while C.F. Bell described it in his own notes as ‘Seaport town with church with square tower’.5 Figures usually corresponding to Finberg’s MS catalogue page numbers, which differ from Bell’s sequence, are inscribed on the verso of most sheets.
‘John Knill – the Man behind the Steeple and its Unique Ceremony’, Steeple Woodland Nature Reserve, St. Ives, Cornwall, accessed 21 May 2009,
Brown in Lewis and Brown 1985, p.97.
See for example Michael Tooby, Tate Gallery St Ives [and] Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden: An Illustrated Companion, London 1993, p.15.
A.J. Finberg, MS addenda, [circa 1928–39], tipped into a copy of his A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.I, opposite p.356, as CXXV(a) 24.
C.F. Bell, MS addenda, [after 1928], tipped into a copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.I, p.356B, as CXXVa 47; entry later annotated in other hands ‘Dartmouth?’ and ‘?St Ives’.

Matthew Imms
July 2011

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