Joseph Mallord William Turner

?The Great Mew Stone from Wembury


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 174 × 244 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 263

Catalogue entry

Finberg called this loosely worked study ‘Rocks on the coast’,1 and although Andrew Wilton placed it among miscellaneous ‘related studies of a mountainous subject unconnected with any finished work’,2 Eric Shanes later focused on its principal feature, the pyramidal rock in the distance, and suggested that it showed ‘The Mewstone, near Plymouth’, and associated it with the Southern Coast series (see the Introduction to this section).3 Shanes has linked this subject and two ‘stylistically similar, rather monochromatic representations of shorelines and inlets near Plymouth’ (Tate D25364, D25366; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 242, 244), and dated them to as early as 1811, although the Plymouth, Hamoaze sketchbook he identified as the source of the other two (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXI) was used in 1813.4
Turner did draw the Great Mew Stone, off the eastern shore at the entrance to Plymouth Sound, as an incidental feature in the 1811 Ivy Bridge to Penzance sketchbook (Tate D08875; Turner Bequest CXXV 10), but it is seen from far and near in numerous Plymouth, Hamoaze sketches, both from the shore and in the course of a well-documented, stormy voyage down the coast from Plymouth (see under Tate D09476; Turner Bequest CXXXI 186a). It was this journey which inspired the tumultuous Southern Coast watercolour of about 1814 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin),5 engraved in 1816 as The Mew Stone, at the Entrance of Plymouth Sound, Devonshire (Tate impressions: T04383–T04385, T05392, T05393, T05970). See also Tate D17170 (Turner Bequest CXCVI F), a less finished watercolour variant of about 1823–6 engraved for the ‘Little Liber’.
Of the shore-based drawings in the Plymouth, Hamoaze sketchbook, the present study is particularly comparable with Tate D09279 (Turner Bequest CXXXI 57), one of a sequence made from near Wembury Church, where the rock is seen beyond a wooded valley, partly eclipsed by the church tower; the tower is not shown here, but the heavily shaded trees in foreground of the pencil sketch seem to be echoed in the dynamic mass of foliage on the left.
Finberg 1909, II, p.834.
Wilton 1980, p.[173] note 1.
See Shanes 1997, pp.94, 102.
Shanes 1997, p.28; see also pp.94, 102.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.351 no.454, reproduced.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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