Joseph Mallord William Turner

?The Eddystone Lighthouse


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 254 × 383 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVI H

Display caption

Storms often feature as a dramatic and sublime component of Turner’s paintings. In these three watercolours, gathering storm clouds above a menacing sea provide the artist with the opportunity to experiment with contrasting areas of dark and light.

Turner has combined fluid washes with energetic brushstrokes to create a sense of perpetual movement and change in the weather. Each composition preserves a unity between the sky and the water, the energy or stillness of the waves mirroring or balancing the dynamic masses of the clouds.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

Finberg described this ‘colour beginning’ as ‘A lighthouse’, tentatively 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 The lighthouse he noted is no longer readily apparent; possibly it was conveyed by the ‘additions in white chalk’3 he observed, which have presumably faded away or been lost from the surface in the intervening century. Some loose pencil work remains in the rocks and breakers. A pale disk-like area a little above and to the left of centre might correlate with the lighthouse’s beacon or the nearby hidden moon in the finished design. See also Tate D17171 (Turner Bequest CXCVI G), 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 (at least in the sheet’s present state). 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.600.
Finberg 1909, I, p.600.
Not inscribed. Not mentioned in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory,1 this side has been extensively worked with heavily mottled blue washes, evoking a marine horizon with the silhouette of a distant pyramidal rock. This might be a variant of the Eddystone theme, or perhaps relates to the Mewstone, a prominent coastal feature near Plymouth; for a detailed discussion of the subject, see the entry for the mid-1820s colour study for Turner’s ‘Little Liber’ (Tate D17170; Turner Bequest CXCVI F).

Matthew Imms
July 2016

Finberg 1909, I, p.600.

Read full Catalogue entry

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