Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Whitehaven, Cumbria


Not on display
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 291 x 479 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXV 10

Display caption

These watercolours share a common palette of grey, black, blue and olive-green backgrounds interspersed with fluid bands of pink, yellow or blue. Turner may have painted the sheets one after the other, using the same few colours ready mixed on his palette.

Working in this way freed Turner from the conventions of watercolour painting and enabled him to experiment with new methods. In On the Sea Shore he seems to have created dots of colour by flicking a brush loaded with paint against the paper.

Gallery label, April 2005

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Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has tentatively related this colour study to the watercolour Whitehaven, Cumberland of about 1835 or 1836 (currently untraced),1 engraved in 1837 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05103, T06125).2 There are no identified sketches of this particular view southwards along the Cumbrian coast, although Turner visited the town in 1809 and made numerous pencil sketches including one of rocks and cliffs looking south to Whitehaven and St Bees Head (Tate D12251; Turner Bequest CLV 10) which was developed as a watercolour soon afterwards (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).3
The correlation of forms and colours in the present study with those of the England and Wales design are not particularly direct: there is a sense of pale, sunlit coastal features on the left below the storm clouds to the right, while a few reddish marks in the foreground might prefigure the wreckage and boats in the finished composition, although these similarities may be fortuitous given the lack of detail. David Brown’s continued use of Finberg’s ‘storm’ title with a revised date of the mid-1840s4 appears equally feasible, but the case is likely to remain unproven either way.
See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.402 no.875, reproduced, as c.1835; Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, p.254, reproduced in colour, as Summer 1836.
Shanes 1997, pp.97, 107.
Wilton 1979, pp.359–60 no.526, reproduced, as ‘Yorkshire coast’.
Brown 1987, p.24, and 2007, p.122.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘32’ above centre, upside down; inscribed in red ink ‘AB 116 P’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCCLXV – 10’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘CCCLXV, 10’.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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