Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sunset over the Sea at Ostend


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 104 × 170 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCIII 1

Catalogue entry

Apart from an illegible note inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, this page was used horizontally for three small coastal sketches framed by rough pencil lines, and various associated notes relating to the rapidly changing sky towards sunset, typical of the tiny annotated thumbnail sketches Turner made as memoranda of such fleeting occasions; compare a page of sunset views over mountains, likely near Belluno, from the 1840 Rotterdam to Venice sketchbook (Tate D32401; Turner Bequest CCCXX 71). The largest of the drawings occupies the bottom left quarter, showing a silhouetted tower and a cross shape (likely indicating a windmill), and the disk of the sun emitting diagonal rays just above the horizon. Scrawled above appears to be ‘20 | [?warm] yel[...] [?lig...]’, presumably indicating yellow light, and below, ‘Os[...] | 20 [?Sun]’. At the bottom right, the same scene is repeated without the sun itself, but with its light still radiating. Here the crabbed notes seem to be ‘[...] 2’, ‘yell’, ‘dun’ and ‘cold [?sky]’, with ‘[?Light]’ at the bottom right.
Across the top, there may be a slight profile of cliffs or dunes, marked ‘Sch[...]’. Below is another sunset study, this time with what seem to be silhouetted sails. The notes here include ‘cold sky’, ‘yell[,...] Light Light | w yellow cloud [...]’, ‘cold | sand’, and ‘warm sea’. Below, the same word, probably ‘Parting’, is repeated twice, possibly on the verge of the sort of tentative poetic musings such transient conditions sometimes inspired in the artist (see the Introduction to the parallel subsection of Venetian Lagoon watercolours).
Turner’s note ‘Os[...]’ is the key to the setting, Ostend (locally Oostende, otherwise Ostende), the Flemish port and resort set half-way along the largely uninterrupted north-west-facing sandy beaches of the Belgian North Sea coast. The last stop on Turner’s long 1840 itinerary returning from Venice, its harbour is reached by a channel running inland on the east side of the original fortified town, at that time extended by parallel wooden piers; both the docks and the city have since seen much change and development. Turner had passed through on his way out from England or back home from his tours of 1817,1 1824 (albeit he continued by land to Calais before sailing),2 1825,3 1833,4 1839,5 and 1844.
See Cecilia Powell, Turner’s Rivers of Europe: The Rhine, Meuse and Mosel, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, pp.22, 23.
See ibid., p.45.
See ibid., pp.44, 119, and Powell 1995, p.33.
See Powell 1995, pp.36, 37, 112.
See Powell 1991, pp.49, 50.
As noted in Powell 1995, p.246, mentioning the Ostend drawings in this part of the book in general terms.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.254–5 no.407, pl.412 (colour).
See Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.468, and pp.468–9 nos.1405–10, all but the last reproduced.
Ibid., p.468.
Ibid., p.469 no.1408.
See Mac Nally 2012, p.106.
Wilton 1979, p.468 no.1405; for the likely Ostend identification, see Ian Warrell in Warrell ed., Franklin Kelly and others, J.M.W. Turner, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington 2007, p.198, and Mac Nally 2012, p.106.
Wilton 1979, p.469 no.1409; see Warrell 2007, p.192, and Jessica Feather, British Watercolours and Drawings: Lord Leverhulme’s Collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool 2010, p.200; see also Christine Riding and Richard Johns, Turner & the Sea, exhibition catalogue, National Maritime Museum, London 2013, p.117.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

See also Bower 1999, pp.102–3.

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