Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Moon Behind Clouds: ?Study for ‘Shields Lighthouse’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 262 × 314 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 192

Catalogue entry

As noted by Andrew Wilton, this is a loose variation on the engraved ‘Little Liber’ design traditionally known as ‘Shields Lighthouse’ (Tate D25431; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 308),1 apparently known as such by comparison with the composition of Shields, on the River Tyne, engraved in 1823 for the Rivers of England from a watercolour of that year (Tate D18155; Turner Bequest CCVIII V).2 Ian Warrell has suggested that Turner may have been working on ‘all three designs at roughly the same time’, noting that the present variation may have influenced the final state of the ‘Little Liber’ mezzotint, with the moon almost obscured rather than in a halo.3
Andrew Wilton has compared the primary design with another rough ‘colour beginning’ of Moonlight, with Shipping (Tate D25305; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 183); Jack Lindsay had reproduced the latter along with the present work without further comment.4 Gerald Wilkinson noted that the ‘hectic, occluded moon is a recurring theme in Turner’s work, from his earliest oil painting onwards’,5 meaning Fishermen at Sea, exhibited in 1796 (Tate T01585).6
Wilton 1975, p.63; see also Dupret 1989, p.36.
Wilton 1979, p.384 no.732, reproduced.
Warrell 1991, p.24.
See Andrew Wilton, in Gage, Ziff and Alfrey 1983, p.232; and Lindsay 1966, ill.26, as ‘Colour Structure: Moon burst’.
Wilkinson 1975, p,153.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.1–2 no.1, pl.1 (colour).
Technical notes:
The overall effect appears quite rough and spontaneously atmospheric, with the various tones of watercolour worked both wet in wet and wet over dry. There is loose horizontal pencil hatching at the bottom left, perhaps indicating ripples or waves. There is the pencil outline of a ship under sail towards the right, as also seen in the ‘Little Liber’ design Ship in a Storm (Tate D25432; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 309a), and perhaps an afterthought, the setting and effect being the primary concerns.1
See Warrell 1991 p.24, and 2007 p.111.
Blank. The surface is darkened and stained, particularly across the lower half.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

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