Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vessels on the River Medway


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 80

Catalogue entry

Articulated by Finberg as a ‘group of vessels’, Turner’s drawings on this page describe a great number of ships within the context of a busy waterway.1 The Medway identification is suggested here in light of the topographic focus of this sketchbook.
At left, the stern of a hulk is described. Turner composed this sketch across both the current and facing page on folio 79 verso (D17488), straddling the gutter of the sketchbook. The portion visible here shows some of the gun ports which line the hull, as well as the windows of the galleries across the stern, and the main and mizzen masts. A sliver of the rudder can also be perceived above the waterline.
Seeming also to share this waterline is a large group of vessels described at right, although these may comprise an entirely separate sketch. The foreground is dominated by an intricately rigged ship of the line positioned towards the middle of the page. Two rows of gun ports puncture its hull. The vessel charts a course that will take it past Turner’s position on the left. To the right of this ship, the water teems with additional vessels, and the cluttered horizon at far right indicates a harbour or dockyard.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

Finberg 1909, I, p.609.

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