Joseph Mallord William Turner

Torbay from Brixham


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 170 × 209 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIV 48

Catalogue entry

Turner’s view is from above King’s Quay on the south-east side of Brixham Harbour, at about the point where King Street becomes Berry Head Road;1 for Berry Head itself, see the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08557; Turner Bequest CXXIII 99a). Today the best equivalent for the viewpoint is the east end of North View Road, set back above King Street, looking north-west along the curving coast of Torbay, with Paignton on the west side and Torquay on the north, terminating at Hope’s Nose about five miles across the water. Presumably as preparation for his West Country tour, Turner had noted in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook: ‘Torbay 12 miles from Hopes nose to Berry head | Brixham where William 3 landed 5 Novr 1688’ (Tate D40864; Turner Bequest CXXXVII inside front cover). These facts come from John Feltham’s Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (revised edition, London 1810, p.427).
The recently built New Pier is seen below, running eastwards from the Quay. It was later extended with an arm northwards at right-angles from its end and an additional pier was added beyond, effectively forming a self-contained second harbour. Other significant changes include the building of a breakwater over half a mile in length,2 which, superimposed on Turner’s composition, would end at about the centre and run in a shallow diagonal towards the bottom right.
Finberg notes that this sketch is the basis for the watercolour Tor Bay, from Brixham of about 1816–17 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge),3 engraved in 1821 for Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England4 (see the concordance of the series in the 1811 tour introduction). There are also two small sketches of Brixham in Devonshire Coast, No.1 (Tate D08466, D08470; Turner Bequest CXXIII 53a and 55a). The first of these shows only a profile of the distant coast, but also includes a note apparently reading ‘Cloathn dry’ in the foreground, prompting the addition of women with laundry at that point in the watercolour. The second is a superficially similar study of the harbour, actually made from further west and including the Eastern Quay, an older, shorter pier within the harbour south of the King’s Quay; William Daniell’s aquatint of Brixham for A Voyage Round Great Britain, published in 1825 (Tate impression: T02994), shows the same view. The Eastern Quay is not visible in the present drawing, as it stands just beyond the left-hand edge of the composition.
See Ebdon 2005, p.16.
‘The Brixham Harbour & Breakwater’, Caught in the Web: Bytes of Torbay’s Past, accessed 16 October 2008,
Wilton 1979, p.353 no.468, reproduced; see also Cormack 1975, pp.40–1 no.13, Pl.13.
Finberg 1909, I, p.354; see also Cormack 1975, pp.40, 41 note 2; Wilton 1979, p.353; Shanes 1981, pp.26, 152; and Shanes 1990, p.59; see also Shanes, J.M.W. Turner: The Foundations of Genius, exhibition catalogue, Taft Museum, Cincinnati 1986, p.50 under no.31.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.195 no. 343, pl.345.

Matthew Imms
February 2011

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