Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sky Studies; Two Sketches of Boats; Horses Waiting for the Mail


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 90 x 112 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVI 6

Catalogue entry

The top of this page has been divided into squares which Turner has used for three thumbnail studies of skies. At the top left is a picture of a ‘Dark’ cloudy sky with ‘brown’ and ‘grey’ clouds above a relatively flat landscape with what may be a ruin in the foreground. Next to this on the right, a tree-filled landscape lies beneath a partially cloud-covered sky with a ‘greenish light’ and hints of ‘Red’. Beneath the first sketch wispy ‘pink phumes’ [fumes] appear above the sea.
While most of Turner’s landscape sketches of Scotland in 1818 pay little attention to the appearance of the sky – concentrating rather on topographical and architectural features – he did use folio 23 verso of this sketchbook (D13494) for five thumbnail sky studies, and a sketch of Edinburgh Castle in the Bass Rock and Edinburgh sketchbook is accompanied by a second thumbnail version of the same scene, drawn to demonstrate the appearance of the sky (Tate D13406; Turner Bequest CLXV 47a). Several landscapes in the present sketchbook have inscriptions referring to the sky and the weather: ‘Stormy eff[ect] at Hopetoun’ (43 verso; D13534) and ‘The Effect of Twylight near Edinburgh’ (folio 59; D13563).
There are two studies of boats on this page. The larger sketch shows a single-masted vessel with its sails down, but evidently ready to be raised. This is one of the most detailed boat studies made during this tour as it carefully describes the boat’s rigging, showing the boom, lowered and resting horizontally across the hull, the foresail rolled up around the foremost halyard with ropes hanging down loosely and a row of fenders secured along the side to protect the hull from knocking against the dock. The smaller, slighter sketch may show the same boat at sail, as the masts and sails are arranged in the same fashion with a central mainsail, a foresail, and a small mast at the very back with a sail that flies behind the boat.
Finally, at the bottom left of the page, is a rough sketch of several buildings in a town or harbour with the inscription, ‘horses waiting for the mail’. The horses are not clearly depicted, hence the inscription, but may be waiting at a harbour for the arrival of mail by boat, or else they are in town and are to be used to relieve the present mail-coach horses. It is likely that Turner travelled to Scotland by mail coach, so he would have had ample opportunity to witness such an event.

Thomas Ardill
January 2008

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