Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vessels including a Dredger, Probably on the River Medway at Chatham

c.1821

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 112 × 190 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D17482
Turner Bequest CXCIX 76 a

Catalogue entry

As articulated by Finberg, here Turner describes two river scenes, both rendered with the sketchbook inverted in relation to its foliation.1 The Medway identification is put forward in light of this book’s topographic focus. Chatham Dockyard would justify such a volume of vessels, which here are diverse in number and design.
The page is dominated by the lower of the two sketches, which illustrates a scene on a busy waterway. A small craft at left carries figures, presumably members of a naval crew judging by the distinctive hat, a tricorn or bicorn, worn by the passenger at far right. Slight waves, indicated by gently undulating lines, buoy the small boat on its journey. At left a dredger is described in some detail, its masts overlapping with the other drawing on the sheet. A similar vessel can be observed at left in Turner’s oil painting The Confluence of the Thames and the Medway of 1808 (Tate T03874).2 Hulks line the horizon at left, some of their hulls marked with rows of gun ports, others left unelaborated.
Across the top of the page, a sweeping panorama demonstrates two bands of vessels, one on either side of the sheet. Flat topography characterises the horizon, and the water is equally placid. A tall ship of the line at left fronts a group of similar boats that recede until the most distant examples are rendered illegible. At right, three vessels are clearly picked out in profile, their tall masts and broad hulls brief but evocative.
For a comprehensive list of the studies in this sketchbook identified as or presumed to be views of Chatham, see the entry for folio 22 recto (D17402).

Maud Whatley
January 2016

1
Finberg 1909, I, p.609.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.57–8 no.75, pl.85 (colour).

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