Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Michael’s Mount


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 241 × 303 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 311

Catalogue entry

(see main catalogue text)
St Michael’s Mount, off Marazion and across Mount’s Bay from Penzance in Cornwall, is not evident in the present watercolour, and the title is by association with the ‘Little Liber’ mezzotint described below, which directly follows its cloud, wave and moon forms. Rawlinson appears to have recognised the watercolour as the preliminary design (‘The Drawing is in the National Gallery. The Mount does not appear in it.’),1 although later commentators lost track of the connection2 until Ian Warrell re-established it.3
Pencil sketches of the Mount made on Turner’s 1811 tour of the West Country are in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08715; Turner Bequest CXXIII 190a) and the Ivy Bridge to Penzance sketchbook (between Tate D08910 and D08937; Turner Bequest CXXV 31, 46), with distant views across Mount’s Bay in the Cornwall and Devon sketchbook (Tate D41281–D41283, D41285–D41290, D41367, D41369; Turner Bequest CXXV a 6–8, 10–15, 85, 87). A watercolour of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall of about 1812 (private collection)4 was engraved in 1814 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England. An oil of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London),5 and Mount St. Michael, Cornwall, a watercolour of about 1836 (University of Liverpool)6 was engraved in 1838 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales.
There are two loose, atmospheric ‘colour beginnings’ of the Mount at sunset, made in about 1828 (Tate D25187, D25514; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 65, 390); they are much brighter in their effect and not directly related to the present composition. Ian Warrell has seen the present design, showing the setting sun and the moon in close proximity, as an intimation of later compositions such as Turner’s oil The Fighting ‘Temeraire’,7 exhibited in 1839 (National Gallery, London).8
The composition was engraved in mezzotint,9 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). The ‘completely corroded’ steel plate was found in his studio after his death;10 according to Dupret it was sold in 1873,11 although it is unclear whether it is listed in the 24 March 1873 Christie’s sale of prints from Turner’s studio (see the Introduction). The development of the design is described by Rawlinson and Dupret.12 There seems to have been only one trial proof stage, with the Mount added in pencil on the left of one impression (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), with further touches in white to the sea and sky. There is no impression in the Tate collection.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387; Marcel-Etienne Dupret, ‘Turner’s Little Liber, Turner Studies, vol.9, no.1, Summer 1989, p.38, describes the study mentioned by Rawlinson as ‘untraced’.
See Wilton 1975, p.62.
See Warrell 1991, p.39.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.350 no.445, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.207 no.358, pl.361 (colour).
Wilton 1979, p.403 no.880, reproduced.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.229–31 no.377, pl.381 (colour).
See Warrell 2004, p.83; see also Warrell 1991, p.39.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908,, and vol.II 1913, pp.210, 386 no.802.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387.
See Dupret 1989, p.38.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387; Dupret 1989, p.38.
Shanes 1997, pp.98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’, as ‘Sky sketch, possibly related to [CCLXIII] 311’, 101 under ‘Sea Sketches and Studies’, 102 under ‘Sky Sketches’.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

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