Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Full Moon over the Sea, from a Beach


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 268 × 377 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 206

Display caption

Turner was one of the first artists to paint the same motif at different times of the day in order to observe the changing effects of light. This group of watercolours repeats the same pictorial formula at sunrise, sunset, twilight and moonlight.

A natural structure is imposed by the simple unbroken line of the horizon separating the composition into a lower and upper plane. Turner reinforces the emphasis on the horizontal by applying the watercolour in bold bands of contrasting colour.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

Ian Warrell has associated this composition with the ‘Little Liber’;1 the elemental, luminous image is comparable with Shields Lighthouse (Tate D25431; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 308), one of the canonical watercolours engraved for the series. See also Tate D25305 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 183) and D40138 in the present subsection.
Loose pencil marks presumably indicate waves, although the sea is barely developed except where a vertical strip of colour has been lifted to indicate the path of the moon’s reflection. The washes of the sky have been extensively worked while wet with the colour lifted in small rounded patches, perhaps using the fingertips, to suggest a halo of light, fluffy clouds around the moon, intensifying its brightness.
See Warrell 2002, p,64, and Warrell 2003, pp.70, 147.
Technical notes:
Finberg noted: ‘Left-hand corner torn’.1 A diagonal line is evident at the bottom left, where the corner has been replaced with similar paper and lightly washed to match Turner’s work inconspicuously at this point.
Finberg 1909, II, p.830.
Blank; not available for inspection at time of writing.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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