Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Mawes at the Pilchard Season

exhibited 1812

Not on display

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

Turner visited St Mawes, east of Falmouth Bay, during a tour of the West Country in 1811. He was gathering material for a series of engraved views of the south coast. These were to reflect its scenery, industry and defensive role during the Napoleonic Wars.

The fishing industry suffered wartime depression, but Turner shows the pilchard season in a healthy state. He also emphasises the sixteenth-century fortress overlooking the bay. Built to guard against French invasion, this was a forerunner of the chain of Martello Towers constructed in Turner’s day along the coastline of south-east England for the same purpose.

Gallery label, August 2004

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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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