Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Mawes at the Pilchard Season

exhibited 1812

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 911 × 1206 mm
frame: 1341 × 1640 × 195 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This scene captures the unloading of the pilchard boats at St Mawes harbour in Cornwall. Pilchard fishing was an important industry for the town. Turner shows the impact of the Napoleonic War on the home front. Napoleon's Continental Blockade meant countries allied with France could not trade with the British. It prevented excess fish caught in British waters being exported to mainland Europe. Fish like these Cornish pilchards were sold on the beach, often as cheap manure. 

Gallery label, July 2020

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Catalogue entry

123. [N00484] St Mawes at the Pilchard Season Exh. 1812

Canvas, 35 7/8 × 47 1/2 (91 × 120·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (85 ‘Saint Mawes’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1812; Tate Gallery 1931 (51).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 293; 1877, p. 430; Armstrong 1902, p. 288; MacColl 1920, p. 8; Whitley 1928, p. 203; Davies 1946, p. 187; Clare 1951, pp. 48–50; Finberg 1961, pp. 190–91, 474 no. 175.

St Mawes on Falmouth Harbour, with Pendennis Castle in the distance. According to Thornbury the picture was painted in 1809, but it may alternatively be a result of Turner's visit to the West Country in the summer of 1811 in connection with W.B. Cooke's Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England, published between 1814 and 1826. St Mawes and Pendennis appear in a list of subjects for this publication in the ‘Devonshire Coast No. 1’ sketchbook (CXXIII-5) and there are drawings in the same book of Falmouth, Pendennis and perhaps St Mawes (CXXIII-104, 108 verso, ?111, 217 verso; 198; and 133 respectively); there are further drawings in the ‘Ivy Bridge to Penzance’ sketchbook (CXXV-24 verso, 27, 27 verso, 29–30, ?45 verso). There were two engravings in the Southern Coast, ‘St. Mawes, Cornwall’ by J. C. Allen 1824, and ‘Falmouth Harbour, Cornwall’ by W.B. Cooke 1816 (see W. 473, 455, both repr.). A later engraving, closer to this painting however, is that done by J. H. Kernot in 1830 of ‘St. Mawes, Cornwall’ for Picturesque Views in England and Wales, 1827–38 (repr. Eric Shanes, Turner's Picturesque Views, 1979, pl. 99).

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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