Joseph Mallord William Turner

Warships at Anchor; Studies of a Bow and Stern; a Wooded Coastline


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 100 × 74 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCVII 11 a

Catalogue entry

With the page turned vertically, at the top is a view centred on a large warship at anchor, with another further off to the right and other less defined shipping to the left of its stern, while small boats pass in the foreground. At the centre of the page is a study of the port bow of a warship, with a word to the right which appears to be something like ‘¿¿¿¿¿’, possibly an attempt at the vessel’s name in Greek script (transliterating as ‘EAEIL’), although a link with an actual vessel has yet to be established. At the bottom right is the stern of a vessel, possibly a warship or a large yacht, while at the bottom left, made with the page horizontal, is what seems to be a slight profile of a wooded coastline seen from the sea. The bows seem to relate to those on the right of the watercolour Cowes, Isle of Wight (private collection),1 engraved in 1830 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04556, T06086, T06087); see under folio 21 recto (D18028).
Robert Upstone has described the upper sketch as ‘remarkably similar’ to the composition of Turner’s Napoleonic subject in the watercolour Portsmouth Harbour: The Entry of French Prizes (private collection),2 which he dated to about 1823 by association with the traditional date of this sketchbook and the London Bridge and Portsmouth book (Tate; Turner Bequest CCVI);3 see the sketchbook Introduction to the latter for further discussion. The Portsmouth subject shows two warships arriving under full sail, rather than the single main vessel shown here with sails furled, and any resemblance is presumably fortuitous and generic, given that the watercolour probably dates from several years earlier than 1827, when the present book appears to have been in use.
The ships here are recorded without any indication of their setting, but were presumably seen at Cowes or off the coast of the mainland nearby. Compare the distant moored vessels in the painting East Cowes Castle, the Seat of J. Nash, Esq.; the Regatta Beating to Windward, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).4 For more on studies in this sketchbook relating to the regatta events at Cowes from late July 1827 onwards, see the sketchbook Introduction.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.395 no.818, reproduced.
Ibid., p.355 no.487, as c.1820, untraced; Upstone 1990, p.54, reproduced, as sold to an anonymous buyer after being bought in at Christie’s, London, 14 November 1989 (131).
Upstone 1990, p.55, as ‘London Bridge and Gosport [sic] sketchbook’.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.150 no.242, pl.246 (colour).

Matthew Imms
December 2014

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