Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘The Sun Rising through Vapour’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 118 × 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest C 70

Catalogue entry

This sketch served as the basis for the second of Turner’s two pictures now known by the same title, The Sun Rising through Vapour. The first (National Gallery, London)1 was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807, and may have prompted Turner’s patron Walter Fawkes to suggest the second, smaller version of a similar subject, a man-of-war in a morning calm seen from a shore with fishermen cleaning or selling fish (Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham).2 This second version has been associated with one of two pictures shown in Turner’s Gallery in 1809 with the same title, Fishing Boats in a Calm, which are not otherwise traced. This suggestion, together with the present drawing in a sketchbook whose marine subjects were all or mainly drawn at Portsmouth or Spithead in 1807 when Turner went to see the arrival of Danish ships seized at Copenhagen (see Introduction), provides the only evidence for the date of the picture. Fawkes hung it in his drawing room at Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, on the same wall as The Victory Returning from Trafalgar (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut).3 If regarded as pendants (and they are of almost the same, slightly unusual size), the pictures might have evoked a contrast of war and peace or, if the distant man-of-war is one of the Danish prizes, of two naval victories. As noted in the Introduction, the Copenhagen incident was soon discredited, and Turner may have preferred a bland, non-committal title for his Gallery in 1809.Although neither sketch nor picture make the location specific, a Portsmouth harbour scene would have been appropriate as in the other picture Victory appears passing the Isle of Wight and the Needles.

David Blayney Brown
May 2006

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.53–4 no.69 (pl.79).
Ibid., pp.68–9 no.95 (pl.103).
Ibid., pp.46–7 no.59 (pl.69).

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