Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Great Mew Stone


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 95 × 157 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXI 179 a

Catalogue entry

With the page turned horizontally, this drawing is part of a sequence working in from the back cover of the sketchbook, which correlates with accounts of a voyage Turner and others made from Plymouth south-east to Burgh Island, returning by land towards Plymouth. The sequence begins on folio 275 (D09476; Turner Bequest CXXXI 186a), under which the overall trip is discussed, and may extend as far as folio 228 verso (Tate D09382; Turner Bequest CXXXI 139a).
The sketches between here and folio 261 verso (D09448; Turner Bequest CXXXI 172a) were made around the Great Mew Stone (or Mewstone), seen here from the north-west; it stands in Wembury Bay, Devon, on the south-eastern approach to Plymouth Sound.
A watercolour of about 1814 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin),1 showing the rock in stormy seas, was engraved in 1816 as The Mew Stone, at the Entrance of Plymouth Sound, Devonshire for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Tate impressions: T04383–T04385, T05392, T05393, T05970). Discussing Turner’s voyage in the context of the Beaufort Scale of wind forces Turner’s contemporary (Admiral Sir) Francis Beaufort had begun to develop privately in 1805, Barry Venning has observed that, from the set of the vessels’ sails and the state of the sea, the Dublin watercolour apparently shows ‘a force eight or nine gale’;2 typically of Turner, there is little indication of such conditions in the pencil outlines here.
See also the watercolour study of about 1823–6 for a ‘Little Liber’ engraving (Tate D17170; Turner Bequest CXCVI F). A vigorous watercolour study traditionally known as Storm off Margate (private collection)3 has been identified as another view,4 on a page extracted from the Devonshire Rivers (3) and Wharfedale sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXIV), apparently used in Devon in 1814 and discussed in the relevant section of this catalogue.

Matthew Imms
April 2014

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.351 no.454, reproduced.
Venning 2011, p.79.
Wilton 1979, p.389 no.768, reproduced.
At the time of its being offered at auction at Christie’s, London, 4 June 2008 (26); it was offered again at Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 2013 (183).

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