Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Bass Rock with Sailing Boat


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXV 7

Catalogue entry

This view of Bass Rock from the south provided Turner with useful information for his watercolour design for Scott’s Provincial Antiquities, Bass Rock, circa 1824 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight).1 Although several sketches from 1822 (Tate D17645–D17647; Turner Bequest CC 78a–79a) are more direct models for the final design, this sketch comes closer to the feel of the watercolour with the small boat battling the turbulent waves. The rock, looming above, is an ambiguous sign to the mariners – teasing them with the offer of safe harbour, while threatening to destroy the craft if it sails too close. From the direction of the sail, we can see that the wind is pushing towards the island. If we consider Turner’s watercolour, with the rescuers or wreckers examining the floating mast, ripped from the boat, the outcome looks bleak (see footnote to folio 3 verso; D13326; CLXV 3a). It is typical of Turner’s romanticism to work up a choppy sea into a raging storm.

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1069.

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