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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Steamer and a Sailing Ship off the Coast in a Storm c.1820-40

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Steamer and a Sailing Ship off the Coast in a Storm c.1820–40
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 147
Watercolour on white wove paper, 256 x 280 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in blue ink ‘1605’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCLXIV – 147’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Although the setting of this dramatic evocation of ships in heavy weather was identified in 1995 as Portsmouth,1 there seems little in the vaguely defined distant shoreline (with a square ochre form perhaps representing a castle or other large building) to connect the scene with the Hampshire port in particular. See the Introduction to the London Bridge and Portsmouth sketchbook of about (Tate; Turner Bequest CCVI) in the ‘Thames, London and South of England 1821–7’ section for details of Turner’s visits to the area and various finished watercolours set in the Solent at the mouth of the harbour.
The pale band over the sea at the right may represent chalk cliffs at some other point on the South Coast of England; Eric Shanes has connected the scene to Brighton, without further comment.2 The setting is secondary to the vessels beset by the elements. Although the belching steamer is the focus, there is also a ship with billowing sails passing beyond, and rough indications of at least one small open boat in the foreground, with blue and white stripes apparently marking the jersey of one of the somewhat exposed crew.
Noting that Finberg had placed this sheet at a relatively late date,3 Andrew Wilton observed ‘certain affinities’ with late seascapes such as the dynamic painting Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited in 1842 (Tate N00530),4 albeit suggesting closer links with marine watercolours of the 1820s including studies for the Ports of England series (see Alice Rylance-Watson’s ‘Ports of England c.1822–8’ section), which ‘employ the same range of greys and greens’.5
Whether coincidentally or not, the dimensions of this unusually squarish sheet correspond with some of those in the Turner Bequest and elsewhere used by Turner on his 1836 tour of the Val d’Aosta; compare for example Tate D25439, D35887 and D35964 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 316, CCCLXIV 47, 121), which share a relatively muted palette and loose handling.6 In view of the range of opinions and suggestions, a range date covering the 1820s and 1830s has been applied here.
See Sketching the Sky, exhibition catalogue 1995, p.[7].
See Shanes 1997, p.94.
See Finberg 1909, II, p.1186.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.246–7 no.398, pl.404 (colour).
Wilton 1975, p.65; see also White 1977, p.81, and Stainton 1981, p.99.
See also David Hill, Joseph Mallord William Turner: Le Mont-Blanc et la Vallée d’Aoste, exhibition catalogue, Museo Archeologico Regionale, Aosta / Musée Archéologique Régional, Aoste, 2000 for other examples.
Technical notes:
There is a diagonal crease towards the top left, where blue and dark grey pigments have pooled. There are touches of strong, partially mixed red and blue among the clouds at the top right. The sails beyond the steamer were initially reserved.
Blank; the diagonal crease noted on the recto is more evident.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Steamer and a Sailing Ship off the Coast in a Storm c.1820–40 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-steamer-and-a-sailing-ship-off-the-coast-in-a-storm-r1184473, accessed 23 May 2024.