Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vessels, Probably at Chatham on the River Medway

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
D17479
Turner Bequest CXCIX 75

Catalogue entry

The drawings on this page have been made with the sketchbook inverted according to its foliation. Finberg articulated the presence of vessels within the three compositions, leaving the specific location uncertain.1 The Medway identification made here is suggested in light of the topographic focus of this book. Chatham could plausibly have accommodated such a dense volume of ships, but this suggestion is tentative.
The three drawings are choreographed as follows. Two lie along the top edge of the sheet, whilst a third runs across the full width of the bottom portion. The handling of all three seems swift but precise, demonstrating fast, regimented hatching and tiny, economically rendered figures. The sketch at top right is separated from the rest of the folio by a pair of very lightly pencilled lines; one horizontal, the other vertical. A vast array of ships is recorded, further emphasising the likelihood that this is a busy and thriving dockyard of some kind. The tall, industrial shapes in the centre, at the top of the page, might be the timber dry docks in use at Chatham, which were later rebuilt in stone.2
Turner describes scenes at Chatham throughout this sketchbook. For a comprehensive list of these drawings, see the entry for folio 22 recto (D17402).

Maud Whatley
January 2016

1
Finberg 1909, I, p.609.
2
‘Dry Docks and Building Slips’, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed 22 January 2016, http://www.thedockyard.co.uk/history-and-buildings/introduction-our-historic-buildings/dry-docks-building-slips/.

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