Joseph Mallord William Turner

Waves Breaking on the Shore


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 115 × 164 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LIV 116

Display caption

Turner would have made most of his paintings of the sea in the studio, but his sketchbooks reveal his tendency to sketch from life in front of the subject. He had a great interest in details of rigging and masts and took pains to ensure the accuracy of his drawings. A contemporary audience would have recognised the visual differences between commercial and naval shipping.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

This is a continuation of the drawing on folio 115 verso opposite (D02808). It is one of a series of studies of breaking waves between folios 109 recto and 116 verso (D02796–D02810); see also folio 3 verso (D02618).
Like the other studies, this may have been used in the preparation of the canvas Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather (Southampton Art Gallery),1 exhibited in 1802. This and the drawing on the verso (D02810) may be the studies singled out for special mention by Finberg in his discussion of this book:
But perhaps the most eloquent pages in the book contain two glorious studies of storm-tossed waves. We are looking out from the shore, with the waves breaking at our feet. Even in his more elaborate work Turner has never suggested the tremendous weight and power of the sea-waves so vividly as in these hurried and tiny sketches. The furious work with the knife on both sides of the paper has reduced it almost to a rag; but the rag is eloquent, and such studies as these help us to understand how it was that Turner could paint the sea so very much better than any artist either before his time or since.2
There are similar studies on folios 109 recto and 110 recto and verso (D02796–D02798), which might merit the same encomium and may have been those Finberg had in mind.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.15–16 no.16, pl.12 (colour).
Finberg 1910, p.49.
Technical notes:
Folios 109–116 (D02796–D02810) probably belonged originally between folios 33 and 34 (D02649, D02650); see the technical notes to the sketchbook’s Introduction.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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