This view is taken from the Royal Military Road (built 1804–9) running between Rye and Winchelsea. The River Brede is indicated on the left. Together with a closer view of the hill up to the Strand Gate to Winchelsea on folio 63 verso of this sketchbook (D10519; Turner Bequest CXL 56a) Turner used this drawing for his watercolour Winchelsea, Sussex, and the Military Canal (private collection).1 Variously dated between 1813 (probably too early if based on this drawing as the sketchbook is watermarked that year) and 1817, the watercolour was the subject of an unfinished, unpublished print (open etching only) by William Bernard Cooke. According to Eric Shanes, the print was originally intended for Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England but was ‘obviously’ diverted by Cooke to an abortive series of ‘Views at Hastings and its Vicinity’ planned as a sequel to.2 However Andrew Wilton associates the unpublished print with View in Sussex while dating the drawings of Winchelsea in this sketchbook ‘about 1815’. In short this Winchelsea subject aptly demonstrates how Turner’s projects and practice overlap in his Sussex sketchbooks, and illustrates the difficulties in dating them.
In translating drawing to watercolour, Turner took characteristic liberties with the truth, the addition of the Royal Military Canal running alongside the road being ‘completely fictitious’ as Shanes points out.3 In fact the Brede substitutes for the canal on this part of the marsh, connecting with it immediately below Winchelsea Hill. Shanes suggests that Turner may have been told on his earlier visit in 1810 that it was to be extended4 but the evidence of this later sketchbook is that Turner had been able to remind himself of the real layout and knowingly dramatised it in his watercolour.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.348 no.430.
Eric Shanes, ‘Sussex, Views in’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.322.
Shanes 1981, p.20.
Eric Shanes, Turner in 1066 Country, exhibition catalogue, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Hastings 1998, p.5.