Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for Unidentified Vignettes: Wreck Buoy, Gurnet, Dogfish, and Plaice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 203 × 155 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 342

Catalogue entry

The subject of this vignette combines landscape elements with a carefully composed still-life. The scene shows a stormy, choppy sea with a catch of fish including gurnet, dogfish, and plaice arrayed in the foreground. The illustration belongs to a group of four finished designs that Turner produced for an unidentified project (see also Tate D27520; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 3, Tate D27521; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 4 and Tate D25466; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 343). The other designs retain a similar format and depict lobsters and crabs, cod and red snapper, and mackerel respectively. None of the watercolours was ever engraved for publication. For a detailed discussion of the group see Tate D27520; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 3
The other object in the foreground of the watercolour is a green wreck buoy with its chain float. A wreck buoy is a life-saving marker which warns ships of wrecked vessels lying unseen underneath the waves. The device formed the subject and title of one of Turner’s exhibited oil seascapes, The Wreck Buoy, originally painted circa 1807 and reworked 1849 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).1 Like this vignette composition, the painting features a green buoy with the word ‘Wreck’ partially visible, and a dark stormy sky divided by the hint of a rainbow.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.43 28; see John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, p.230.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘91 | a’ centre right and ‘CCLXIII.342’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII 342’ bottom left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Revised by Nicola Moorby
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry

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