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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Sea Piece with a Breaking Wave c.1807-19

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Sea Piece with a Breaking Wave circa 1807–19
Turner Bequest CXV 7
Watercolour on white wove lightweight writing paper, 230 x 376 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘7’ bottom right
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXV 7’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This study develops the composition established on the previous page of the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate D08089; Turner Bequest CXV 6), although there appears to have been no subsequent progression towards a finished Liber Studiorum design. A thin, greyish wash for the sky and sea has been left to dry, and then worked over with a brown wash over most of the sheet, with darker brown strokes emphasising the waves in the foreground, possibly breaking on a beach. The central area has been vigorously if inconclusively worked; it is unclear whether the wave is breaking in isolation, or against a rock or ship, but there is a sense of the ‘vortex’ characteristic of many of Turner’s marine compositions.
There are affinities with the techniques used in the ‘colour beginnings’ (mostly Turner Bequest CCLXIII) which Turner used to establish compositional masses and tones, and to some of the ‘Little Liber’ seascapes which appear to have evolved out of the Liber Studiorum in the 1820s (see general Liber introduction). The composition has also been compared1 to that of the painting Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore, of about 1835 (Tate N02882).2 In the absence of specific evidence, the span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication, 1807–19, is given here as a date range for the present work (as it is for various other unpublished designs).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.286.
Ibid., pp.285–6 no.458, pl.459 (colour).
Technical notes:
The paper is from a batch watermarked ‘J Whatman | 1807’.1 This sheet was recorded by Finberg in 1909 as apparently still being in the sketchbook, but if so it was subsequently removed before the book was badly damaged by immersion in the basement of the Tate Gallery during the Thames flood of January 1928. His number, ‘7’, corresponds with the red ink folio numbers inscribed in the book by Ruskin.
Notes by Peter Bower, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscription.
Stamped in black ‘CXV 7’ bottom left
There are very faint offsets from the darkest washes of the composition originally bound as the next page in the sketchbook (Tate D08091; Turner Bequest CXV 8).

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Sea Piece with a Breaking Wave c.1807–19 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-sea-piece-with-a-breaking-wave-r1131812, accessed 20 June 2024.