Joseph Mallord William Turner

?The Eddystone Lighthouse


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 368 × 493 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVI G

Catalogue entry

Finberg described this ‘colour beginning’ as ‘Eddystone Lighthouse’, relating it to the large watercolour of about 1817 (private collection)1 engraved in 1824 as The Edystone Light House, ‘Plate I of a Series of Marine Views’ (Tate impression: T04820).2 He noted ‘additions in white chalk’,3 but these are no longer readily evident, having presumably faded or been lost from the surface in the intervening century; perhaps they once outlined the lighthouse itself. From 2002 this work was exhibited as ‘Black Sky over Water; possibly the Eddystone Lighthouse’, but dated to about 1825–30.4 As the composition engraved for Marine Views is Turner’s only recorded finished treatment of the subject, the present sheet is here dated to about 1817; this is assuming that it is actually a study for that design, limited as it is in its present state to depicting a rough sea and dark sky without the structure and wreckage later introduced. See also Tate D17172 (Turner Bequest CXCVI H), similarly identified by Finberg.
Turner may have visited the Eddystone, about thirteen miles out to sea off Plymouth, Devon, in 1813, as discussed in the entry for Tate D10258 (Turner Bequest CXXXVII 40) in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook, one of three watercolour studies there of the structure in a stormy setting much as depicted in the 1817 design (see also Tate D10257, D10260; Turner Bequest CXXXVII 39, 41). It is perhaps telling that a fourth page, Tate D10256 (Turner Bequest CXXXVII 38), shows the sea and sky without the lighthouse, as here. This ‘Hamlet without the prince’ approach is not unusual in those of Turner’s colour studies relatable to finished designs which focus on establishing light and mood; compare the colour study for Stonehenge in the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate D25123; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 1).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.357 no.506, as untraced, c.1822.
Finberg 1909, I, p.599.
Tate cataloguing files.
Technical notes:
There is a closed 60 mm tear to the left-hand edge. An irregular 40 x 30 mm loss at the bottom left corner has been made up with similar paper and washed to match. The surface is somewhat soiled.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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