Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for a Sea Piece, with Small Boats in Choppy Water


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Chalk on paper
Support: 436 × 271 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXXI 98

Display caption

This sketchbook contains studies in pencil, pen and ink and chalk for a number of Turner’s early exhibited marine oil paintings. The sketches draw on his imagination as well as recording Turner’s own experiences of being at sea.

In 1802, a brief lull in the Napoleonic Wars permitted travel to France and Turner was able to cross the Channel for the first time. Energetic drawings of waves and spray point to the arduous nature of sea travel at this time. On one page of the book he notes that rough seas ‘nearly swampt’ the passengers disembarking at Calais.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

The subject is continued on folio 51 recto opposite (D05001; Turner Bequest LXXXI 99). Compare the drawings on folios 46 verso–47 recto and 47 verso–48 recto (D04992–D04995; Turner Bequest LXXXI 90–91, 92–93). As the entries for those works suggest, this idea, unused by 1805, was taken up in a picture exhibited in Turner’s own gallery in 1807, Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey, with the Junction of the Thames and the Medway from the Nore (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).1 The boat in breakers that is the focus of Fishermen upon a Lee–Shore, in Squally Weather, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802 (Southampton Art Gallery),2 is one of several elements in the new composition.
The inscription on this page, with those on folios 44 verso and 48 verso (D04988, D04996; Turner Bequest LXXXI 86, 94), gives a date for all the annotations in this sketchbook, which seem to have been added at the same time in the same pen, and suggest the terminus ante quem for the whole.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.49–50 no.62, pl.73.
Ibid., pp.15–16 no.16, pl.12 (colour).

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