Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Arrival of Louis-Philippe: The ‘Gomer’ in Portsmouth Harbour


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 237 × 318 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 138

Display caption

This is one of a number of watercolours in the Turner bequest, drawn with the brush alone, which show the arrival of King Louis-Philippe of France at Portsmouth, on his state visit to Britain. Turner had known him at Twickenham when he was in exile many years before, and the two men kept in touch. He travelled to Portsmouth to see his friend arrive aboard the 'Gomer', which he shows here surrounded by a throng of small boats. The lack of detail gives something of the feel of frenetic activity and celebration of the huge crowd which greeted Louis-Philippe. He later travelled to Windsor Castle where he was lavishly entertained by Queen Victoria and invested as a Knight of the Order of the Garter.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Like the other works grouped here, this relates to the arrival of Louis-Philippe, King of the French, at Portsmouth Harbour on 8 October 1844, as discussed in the Introductions to this subsection and the overall section.1 This is the most pictorially developed of the watercolours in this subsection, and the key to identifying the subject and the sequence in general. Andrew Wilton initially described it as a ‘complex scene economically noted in red and black: the subject is probably some ceremonial occasion; or it may be connected with the series of whaling subjects on which Turner was engaged in 1845–6’2 (see below). David Blayney Brown noted that it shows ‘a vessel like a royal yacht’, connecting it potentially with Louis-Philippe’s arrival or Queen Victoria’s return visit in 1845.3
From contemporary sources, Robert Upstone was able to rule out the two-masted Victoria and Albert I used on the latter occasion and confirm the subject as the Gomer, the King’s large and distinctive hybrid sail-steamship.4 Compare in particular the detailed 1846 painting Débarquement de Louis-Philippe à Portsmouth, le 8 octobre 1844 by Eugène Isabey (1803–1886; Château de Versailles), and see Tate D35959 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 116), which appears to show the Gomer’s stern. Upstone described the ‘throng of small boats’ in the foreground, suggesting that the ‘lack of detail gives something of the feel of the blur of frenetic activity and celebration of the crowd’.5
As noted in the overall Introduction, James Hamilton has ingeniously suggested that two paintings with foregrounds filled with rather overloaded boats, ‘Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!’ (Tate N00546)6 and Whalers (Boiling Blubber) Entangled in Flaw Ice, Endeavouring to Extricate Themselves (Tate N00547),7 began as depictions of Louis-Philippe’s arrival. He has specifically linked the foreshortened ship on the left of Boiling Blubber with the present view of the Gomer.8
See also Upstone 1993, p.52, Warrell 2013, p.9, and Smiles 2014, p.168.
Wilton 1974, p.172.
See Brown 1987, p.20.
See Upstone 1993, p.52.
Ibid., p.53.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.267–8 no.423, pl.426 (colour).
Ibid., pp.270–1 no.426, pl.427 (colour).
See Hamilton 2012, p.16.
Blank; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCLXIV – 138’ towards bottom left.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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