Joseph Mallord William Turner

Twilight over the Waters


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 251 × 381 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 216

Display caption

Turner was one of the first artists to paint the same motif at different times of the day in order to observe the changing effects of light. This group of watercolours repeats the same pictorial formula at sunrise, sunset, twilight and moonlight.

A natural structure is imposed by the simple unbroken line of the horizon separating the composition into a lower and upper plane. Turner reinforces the emphasis on the horizontal by applying the watercolour in bold bands of contrasting colour.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Finberg’s poetic, somewhat biblical, title1 has been retained for this scene of an empty sea in the afterglow of sunset, with a reserved new moon on the left casting a speckled reflection on the waves below. Among the canonical ‘Little Liber’ watercolours, compare particularly St Michael’s Mount (Tate D25434; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 311).
It is unclear whether the pale irregular form over the horizon on the left represents a bank of mist or the beginnings of a headland. Eric Shanes has tentatively suggested the Bay of Naples as a potential setting.2
The verso, a moonlight subject, is D40138.
Finberg 1909, II, p.831.
Shanes 1997, p.98.
Technical notes:
Except at the top centre, brown stains and mottled streaks of what may be glue1 affect much of the image.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

See Wilkinson 1975, p.155.

Read full Catalogue entry


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