Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Sun Rising over the Sea


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 298 × 391 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 68

Display caption

Storms often feature as a dramatic and sublime component of Turner’s paintings. In these three watercolours, gathering storm clouds above a menacing sea provide the artist with the opportunity to experiment with contrasting areas of dark and light.

Turner has combined fluid washes with energetic brushstrokes to create a sense of perpetual movement and change in the weather. Each composition preserves a unity between the sky and the water, the energy or stillness of the waves mirroring or balancing the dynamic masses of the clouds.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

The paleness of the sky suggests this is a sunrise, as Finberg described it,1 although Andrew Wilton has called it a sunset.2 The sun and its reflection on the water were left reserved as blank paper for maximum luminosity. Wilton has related the study to ‘Turner’s work on ... “Little Liber Studiorum”; but it is extremely difficult to say with any certainty when such drawings were made. ... Whether they were actually noted down from nature is almost impossible to ascertain; it is more likely that Turner made them in a sequence, within a very short space of time’3 See the ‘Little Liber c.1823–6’ section of this catalogue, and particularly Study of Sea and Sky (Tate D25479; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 356).
For other ‘colour beginnings’ focusing on a centrally placed sun, see the Introduction to this subsection. See also another study with high, highly coloured clouds laid in ‘wet-in-wet’, Tate D25259 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 137).
Finberg 1909, II, p.819.
See Wilton 1977, p.36.
Blank; no inscriptions.

Matthew Imms
March 2016

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