Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Bass Rock

1818

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D13330
Turner Bequest CLXV 5 a

Catalogue entry

This seems to be the first of several sketches of the Bass Rock that were drawn as Turner approached it by boat. Although it seems less finished than the drawing on the recto (D13329; CLXV 5), the variations from other sketches of the same subject suggest that Turner drew only the details that he wanted to record, indicating the rest of the subject with a few simple lines. It is likely that he made the drawing on the recto first, capturing the overall look of the rock from dry land, before getting in a boat to study it from closer up and from different sides, making a series of quick and, due to the motion of the boat, slightly wobbly sketches of details.
The sketch pays attention to the structures on the island, here indicated with five box shapes, that in later sketches are more clearly identifiable as the island’s fortifications (folio 8; D13335; CLXV 8). Shanes has suggested that this sketch along with the drawing on folio 3 verso (D13326; CLXV 3a) formed the basis of a watercolour study of the subject made around 1824 (Tate D35973; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 130).1
The sequence of Bass Rock drawings continues on folio 7 (D13333; CLXV 7), with details of the fort on folios 7 verso and 8 (D13334, D13335; CLXV 7a, 8). On his return from this excursion, Turner sketched the rocks of Dunbar (folios 9–10; D13337–D13339; CLXV 9a–10). At the bottom of the page is the continuation of the drawing on folio 6 (D13459; CLXV 6).

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

1
Shanes 1997, p.57.

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