Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sunset through Dark Clouds ?over the Sea


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 275 × 468 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 306

Catalogue entry

The fiery disk of the setting sun at the centre above what may be the sea (apparently with a subdued hint of reflection) is lightly veiled by a bank of cloud at the horizon, while another formation arches over it towards the blood-like washes of the upper sky like the wing of a huge bird or mythical creature. This apocalyptic reading may not be too fanciful in light of the similar effect of threatening rain clouds over the sea as late as 1845 in the Ambleteuse and Wimereux sketchbook (Tate D35397–D35399; Turner Bequest CCCLVII 11, 11a, 12). The present strongly toned, velvety-textured ‘Little Liber’-like design1 may show the direct influence of Francis Danby’s 1824 painting Sunset at Sea after a Storm (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery), a sensation on its first appearance, as discussed in the overall Introduction to the present section.
While Judy Egerton has observed that the ‘effect of part of the sombre cloud bank seeming to be flung momentarily upwards by the dying light is echoed’ in the ‘Little Liber’ subject Bridge and Monument (see Tate D17193; Turner Bequest CXCVII C),2 Ian Warrell has noted a more direct similarity to another study of sunset at sea (Tate D25428; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 305).3 The effect clearly stayed with Turner, as he made a similarly intense variation in the Whalers sketchbook of about 1845 (Tate D35240; Turner Bequest CCCLIII 1).
As the focus of the composition, the sun appears to have been reserved initially. The reds which impart an almost three-dimensional, globular quality have been modified by the use of the artist’s fingertips or palm; compare the treatment of the moon Tate D25305 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 183).
See Wilton 1975, p.72, and Wilton 1976, p.158.
Egerton 1995, p.93.
See Warrell 2007, p.111.
Blank; laid down. White wove paper backing sheet inscribed in pencil ‘77’ right of centre, ascending vertically; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII.306’ bottom centre; stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 306’ bottom left.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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