Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Arrival of Louis-Philippe: ?The ‘Gomer’ Moored beside Steps in Portsmouth Harbour


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 227 × 291 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 116

Catalogue entry

Like the other works grouped here, this appears to relate 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 David Brown noted it as showing ‘a steamer moored alongside a quay’, which Robert Upstone has declared ‘clearly identifiable’ as the Gomer, the King’s large and distinctive hybrid sail-steamship. Compare Tate D35981 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 138), where it is surrounded by small boats.
The zig-zag diagonal steps towards the right are consistent with those shown in the detailed 1846 painting Débarquement de Louis-Philippe à Portsmouth, le 8 octobre 1844 by Eugène Isabey (1803–1886; Château de Versailles), where they apparently rise from a pontoon. Very slight drawings in the Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth sketchbook seem to show the same arrangement (Tate D35695, D35704; Turner Bequest CCCLXII 6a, 11). The presence of gunports, longboats stowed at deck level and the semi-circular outline of what is probably the white paddle-wheel housing to the right of the steps are all in accord with Isabey’s depiction. The loosely defined red forms in the foreground may be carriages, while the shadowy shapes at the bottom left may be figures in small boats.
Ian Warrell has questioned the connection with other Louis-Phillipe sheets here, which are all of a slightly larger size (see the Introduction to this subsection), suggesting that stitch holes at the edge may mean this work originated in a sketchbook ‘like those used in Switzerland around 1841–3’ such as the 1841 Fribourg, Lausanne and Geneva book (Tate; Turner Bequest CCCXXXII), with the subject perhaps a steamer on a Swiss lake, the English Channel or the Rhine.2 While bearing this in mind, the muted palette and sparse handling do not appear inconsistent with the other Portsmouth scenes, while the details noted above, particularly the apparent gunports, would seem to make the Gomer the most likely subject pending a specific alternative, and the connection has been retained here. The ink number inscribed on the verso may be another indication that this slightly anomalous sheet belongs with the others.
See also Upstone 1993, p.52, Warrell 2013, p.9, and Smiles 2014, p.168.
Warrell 2013, p.15 note 24.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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