Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Boats Carrying Out Anchors and Cables to Dutch Men of War’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 118 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXXVII 1

Catalogue entry

In Sketches and Drawings Finberg assigns this sketch to the Shipwreck (2) sketchbook (Tate D05428–D05445; D40697–D40700; Turner Bequest LXXXVIII) and described it as the first in a series representing a shipwreck, depicting ‘a large ship settling down at the bows’. In his interpretation, ‘We are away from the shore. The tragedy is intensified by taking place on the high seas, but the presentment is evidently too bare and matter-of-fact for the artist’, and thus to be adjusted in further sketches in the book. However, rather than portraying a shipwreck, the drawing more probably relates to Boats Carrying Out Anchors and Cables to Dutch Men of War, in 1665 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)1 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1804. This picture was mostly painted in one of the Keeper’s Rooms at the Academy, while Turner’s house and studio in Harley Street were occupied by builders working on his new Gallery.2 It was bought by Samuel Dobree, who later joined the subscribers to Charles Turner’s mezzotint after Turner’s Shipwreck (Tate N00476) and is listed as such on the verso of this leaf (D05377; Turner Bequest LXXXVII 2).
Although a connection has not been noticed until now, the position and archaic build of the ship in this sketch, with a high stern, lanterns and steeply-pitched deck, and the rowing boat in the left foreground, seem clearly to relate to the picture, which was the first of an occasional series referring to the seventeenth-century Anglo-Dutch wars. Such a connection would indicate that the sketchbook was in use several years earlier than usually thought, Finberg having dated it circa 1805.

David Blayney Brown
December 2005

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner , revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.40–1 no.52 (pl.62).
See, for example, James Hamilton, Turner: A Life, London 1997, p.86.

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