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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Mountainous Coast with a Stranded Vessel or Whale, Possibly at Penmaenmawr or in North-East England c.1825-38

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Mountainous Coast with a Stranded Vessel or Whale, Possibly at Penmaenmawr or in North-East England c.1825–38
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 32
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 371 x 551 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘[?Stranded Vessel]’ and ‘Willow paper’ bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘32’ bottom right
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 32’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Andrew Wilton suggests that the two pencil circles below the cliffs in this colour study might indicate the position of Turner’s ‘stranded vessel’, speculating that the scene may recall Land’s End (see the 1811 Cornwall and Devon sketchbook; Tate; Turner Bequest CXXV a), or possibly the coast of Durham or Northumberland, visited in 1817 (see the relevant section of the present catalogue) given that this composition was once attached to a Durham view,1 as described in the technical notes. There is a slight pencil outline on the horizon, apparently representing a further range of cliffs with a tower on the skyline, with some criss-cross pencil marks to the left which may indicate further landscape features or shipping.
Eric Shanes has suggested that this is a study for the mountainous North Wales background of the watercolour Penmaen-Mawr, Caernarvonshire of about 1832 (British Museum, London),2 engraved in 1832 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04601, T06107);3 the similarity appears rather generic, with both showing a precipitous coast on the right in stormy conditions, and there is no sign here of the curving coastal road and bank of earth in the foreground of the finished watercolour. The 1799 drawing in the Dolbadarn sketchbook (Tate D02130; Turner Bequest XLVI 90a) on which the latter appears to be based is itself slight, and it is possible that the present work was an intermediate step in developing the Penmaenmawr subject so many years after Turner’s visit.
Shanes also offers an alternative reading of Turner’s inscription as ‘stranded whale’, linking it potentially to the watercolour The Whale on Shore of about 1837 (Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio),4 a work in imaginative, illustrative mode but not linked to a particular publishing project.5 Again, the connection is in terms of a rocky, stormy coast beyond a bay, populated in this design by dozens of small figures, dwarfed by the thrashing whale’s tail rearing up against the rocks in the middle distance in the equivalent space occupied by the two pencil circles in the present work.
The identification of the subject of this study, assuming Turner intended one, is likely to remain unresolved. Wilton’s dating of c.1817 seems early for such a broad ‘colour beginning’, and so a date of about 1825 to 1838 is suggested here in view of the other possibilities outlined above and the broadest timescale of Turner’s involvement with the England and Wales project. See also the Introductions to the present subsection of tentatively identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Wilton 1975, p.50; see also Wilton 1980, pp.147, 149.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.400 no.852, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, pp.27, 95, 104.
Wilton 1979, p.457 no.1307, reproduced, as ‘The Great Whale’.
Shanes 1997, pp.99, 104.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower notes this as a torn half of a lightweight machine-made sheet, of ‘small Imperial’ format (29 x 21¾ inches, or 763 x 552 mm); the other half is Durham Cathedral with a Rainbow (Tate D25247; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 125) with colour tests below. Both halves are inscribed ‘Willow paper’, but Bower has been unable to establish the phrase’s meaning. There is no known manufacturer named Willow, nor is there any willow in the sheet’s bleached cotton and linen content, although willow bark had previously been used experimentally in papermaking.1 Andrew Wilton has described it as ‘rather inferior in quality to the Whatman paper [Turner] customarily used, though with a smooth, hard texture.’2
The conspicuous strip left partly bare and otherwise worked in watercolour along the bottom of the present composition is actually part of the landscape and sky of the Durham view, which would have been at right-angles when the sheet was intact, and the diagonal stroke towards the left matches up with one of the colour test strokes on the other half.
There are brown blobs and streaks of colour, or adventitious staining, over the grey clouds at the top left and centre.
Bower 1990, p.125 and note 5; see also Perkins 1990, p.33, and Shanes 1997, pp.31, 94, 95, 100.
Wilton 1975, p.50.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘10’ towards bottom right, upside down; inscribed in pencil ‘AB [?260] P’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘32’ bottom right, descending vertically; stamped in black with Turner monogram above ‘CCLXIII – 32’ bottom left.
The ‘AB’ number corresponds with the endorsement on one of the parcels of works sorted by John Ruskin during his survey of the Turner Bequest, in this case classified by him as ‘Colour on white. Larger and later’.1

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Mountainous Coast with a Stranded Vessel or Whale, Possibly at Penmaenmawr or in North-East England c.1825–38 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-mountainous-coast-with-a-stranded-vessel-or-whale-possibly-r1144347, accessed 25 May 2024.