Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Medway


On loan

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (Aarhus, Denmark): Turner Watercolours: Sun is God

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 157 × 218 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCVIII P

Display caption

In his work for the public, Turner invariably animated his landscapes with appropriate, if sometimes theatrical, weather and lighting. This group of four watercolours were all designed to be engraved for his collection of views illustrating The Rivers of England, which was published between 1823 and 1827. For this type of work, Turner's own experience of the English climate was invaluable. Sometimes the weather he had endured in a particular spot left such a lasting impression that he was unable to record the place without reproducing the effect. Thus, in each of his three depictions of Arundel, he shows a rainstorm passing over the town, generally accompanied by a rainbow.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Though not engraved, this watercolour drawing is believed to have been made ‘almost certainly’ for the Rivers of England series.1 A modified version of this design was made in mezzotint for the Little Liber series. The hulks are likely ships ‘laid up “in ordinary” (i.e. with their sails, rigging, guns and re-usable parts removed)’.2 In the foreground a yawl and bumboat carry a marine officer, sailors, women, children and their luggage. Rays of warm summer sun project onto this group and produce shimmering reflections in the water. The inverted trapezoid shapes of the sails, alternately cast in light and shade, and the stolid angular forms of the ships behind them offset the arc of a rainbow and the amorphous, mushrooming puffs of cumuli.
As with all the drawings in this series, the colouring is rich and complex, comprised of layered stipples and hatches of complementary and contrasting tones to achieve a striking prismatic effect.
This watercolour was included in the 1999 exhibition on Turner’s Later Papers. The curator Peter Bower chose this drawing because ‘the river pictured, the Medway, together with its tributaries such as the Len, the Loose and the East Malling Stream, was the river that had powered and, in some cases provided the water for, so many of the paper mills that produced the papers that Turner used throughout his career’, including the type upon which this watercolour is drawn: Hollingworth’s white wove Whatman paper.3
What is believed to be a preparatory colour sketch for this design exists in a private collection.4 For other sketches and studies of the river Medway see the Medway sketchbook of 1820 (Tate D17365–D17507; Turner Bequest CXCIX 1–90a) and the Folkestone sketchbook of about 1821 (Tate D17342–D17346, D17350; Turner Bequest CXCVIII 79a–81a, 83a).
Shanes 1990, p.118, no.93 (colour).
Bower 1999, p.42, no.14.
Wilton 1979, p.388–9, no.765.
Stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram at centre and with ‘CCVIII P’ at centre towards top; inscribed in pencil ‘37’ at centre towards left and ‘P’ towards bottom left of sheet.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

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