Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of Shipping at Sea; Mulgrave; Scarborough Castle and Robin Hood’s Bay


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 88

Catalogue entry

As well as sketching the coastline of Britain’s east coast on his journey to and from Edinburgh in this sketchbook (see folios 1 verso and 78; D17509, D17644), Turner also recorded the shipping that used the route, and made studies of the sky, especially of sunrises and sunsets (see folio 3; D17512). On this page, with the sketchbook turned to the left, there are three sketches of boats, two of which pay attention to the setting sun which is reflected in the water of the top sketch, and seen through thin veils of cloud in both. Inscriptions on the second sketch refer to the sky being ‘yellow | with clouds across’ it. There is a third sketch of two boats, seen closer up than the other two, but the sky is blank.
The boats of various sizes may be fishing, whaling or transport vessels using the ports of Whitby or Scarborough which Turner sketched on pages nearby (folio 87; D17662). Whitby, in 1822, had thriving whaling and ship-building industries.
Beneath the shipping studies are three sketches of the coast. The first is of ‘Mulgrave’, a bay and one time port and iron mine on the North Yorkshire coast halfway between Redcar and Whitby. At the bottom right of the sketch is the dark shape of a bird taking off from the water that is remarkably similar to the same motif in the Blue Rigi, Sunrise watercolour of 1842 (Tate T12336).1 Beneath this is a sketch of Scarborough Castle, showing the same view as the third sketch down on folio 84 (D17656). At the bottom of the page is a view of Robin Hood’s Bay, similar to studies on folios 83 verso, 84 and 86; D17655, D17656, D17660).
These three sketches seem to be the last topographical studies that Turner made in this sketchbook during his return sea journey to London from Edinburgh, although he did make one more page of studies of boats under dramatic skies (folio 91; D17670).
Finally there is a small drawing at the centre right of the page, of a duck inscribed ‘Mallard’. The drawing has a light-hearted, cartoonish manner and was probably made as a private joke, referring to the artist’s middle name, ‘Mallord’.

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979 p.483 no.1524; Matthew Imms made this observation, 7 August 2008.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop