J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?A Beach and the Sea below a Pale Cloudy Sky 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 10 Recto:
?A Beach and the Sea below a Pale Cloudy Sky 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 10
Watercolour on white wove paper, 226 x 287 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘10’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXI – 10’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This page and folio 11 recto (D15262) have both been treated with broadly brushed but carefully controlled horizontal washes of pale colours suggesting a generic scene of a calm sea with an open horizon below a pale sky (in this case developed to suggest high cloud), with a strip of beach or shoreline in the foreground. They and the more varied and dynamic beach scenes on folios 12 recto and 13 recto (D15263–D15264) are of the type Finberg called ‘colour beginnings’, among which are the best known are the separate sheets in Turner Bequest section CCLXIII;1 for a discussion of the function of such works in general, see the Introduction to the ‘England and Wales Colour Studies c.1825–39’ section.2
Finberg used the same undifferentiated description for all four of the pages here: ‘Commencement of a water colour drawing’.3 Martin Butlin has described the use of ‘basic colours representing the foreground, distance and sky, of a kind that may have been the starting-out point for some of the other sketches’, meaning the watercolours of Lake Como, Milan and Venice earlier in the sketchbook (see the Introduction), which share horizontal colour structures, developed and articulated by elements of landscape and architecture.4
With the present work in mind, Andrew Wilton has pointed out that publications such as John Laporte’s contemporary Progress of a Water-Colour Drawing included ‘examples of landscape design initially coloured in blue, pink and yellow strips rather like the most primitive of Turner’s colour-beginnings’,5 while Butlin and Evelyn Joll have pointed out similarities with an undeveloped Landscape Composition in oils (Tate N05523),6 and a page from the Rome: Colour Studies sketchbook, used on the present tour (Tate D16385; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 55), with bands of colour applied on a page previously treated with a pale grey wash.7 Compare also the more ‘abstract’ of the ‘colour beginnings’, gathered in the ‘Colour Studies of Clear or Hazy Skies’ category of the ‘Colour Studies of the Sun, Skies and Clouds c.1815–45’ section of this catalogue, in particular Tate D17180, D40303–D40304 and D25254 (Turner Bequest CXCVI P1, P2, P3, CCLXIII 138).
Michael Bockemühl has compared the underlying structure of a view of Venice at dawn on an earlier page of the sketchbook (D15255; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 5) with the present work: ‘Both have a simple structure of broad bands of colour laid horizontally on top of each other. It would be possible to imagine a further application of paint and gentle outlines to the coloured ground’ here. He has observed in the case of D15255 ‘just how economical a depiction can be yet still convey the impression of a complete landscape structure’;8 in the present case ‘a powerful spatial effect ... is caused by colour alone, and it is impossible to ascertain the spatial relationships’:
The longer one looks at the painting as a whole, the more the number of possible interpretations which occur to one. Here we will mention only two. One of them sees the lower brown band as an expanse of sand where the observer is found and which becomes a flat are of beach at low tide. Behind this the distant, open sea emerges against the brighter sky. In the other case, the observer is standing upon a hill, looking over a mist-filled valley at a chain of mountains in the far distance.9
This leads to a sense that there is ‘no one conclusive interpretation’, which ‘gives the picture an unexpected sense of life’ and potential, as in so many of the subsequent ‘colour beginnings’ which Turner retained.10 See also under D15262 for Eric Shanes’s observations about that work’s fundamental similarities to another of the Venice subjects.
See Finberg 1909, II, pp.814–45.
See also Eric Shanes, ‘Beginnings’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.21–3; among many other accounts, see also Andrew Wilton in Martin Butlin, Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.26; and Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.187.
Finberg 1909, I, p.535.
Butlin 1962, p.36; see also Butlin 1968, p.[5], Gage 1969, p.32, Wilton 1974, p.87, Butlin 1975, p.38, and Shanes 1997, p.36.
Wilton 1979, pp.161, 171 note 13.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.158 no.257, pl.262.
See ibid., p.158.
Bockemühl 1993, p.33.
Ibid., pp.34–5.
Ibid., p.35.
Blank; there are slight watercolour offsets or splashes near the gutter from folio 11 recto opposite (D15262).

Matthew Imms
March 2017

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?A Beach and the Sea below a Pale Cloudy Sky 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-beach-and-the-sea-below-a-pale-cloudy-sky-r1186401, accessed 07 December 2021.