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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Aldborough, Suffolk c.1826

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Aldborough, Suffolk c.1826
Watercolour and gouache on white wove paper, 283 x 400 mm
Bequeathed by Beresford Rimington Heaton 1940
John Dillon sale 29 April 1869 (128)
Bought by Agnew
William Quilter, sale Christie 9 April 1875 (242)
Bought by Isaac
Bequeathed by Beresford Rimington Heaton 1940
Entitled Aldborough, Suffolk, this highly finished and colour-rich drawing depicts Aldeburgh, a town which lies on the Suffolk North Sea Coast moments north of the River Alde and Orford Ness. Aldeburgh emerged as a thriving port in the fourteenth century, known for its shipbuilding and fishing industries. Following a period of decline brought about by a sequence of violent storms it was revived in the early nineteenth century by the fashion for sea bathing. The town became a holiday resort, ‘a watering place’, much frequented for its picturesque scenery, seafront promenades and health-giving air.1
In this drawing, however, Turner depicts an altogether separate aspect of the town to that which belonged to holidaymakers. He pictures Aldeburgh’s maritime economy, represented by two groups of sailors and fishermen working at dawn. They are shown from the perspective of the River Alde, with Orford Ness, a long shingle spit, separating the river from the North Sea, which is also visible at far right. The left group is comprised of three men: one holds the oars of a small row boat while his companions mend a floating ship’s mast. As they toil the mast bobs up and down against the force of their hammering and the glassy surface of the water is gently disturbed. Waves of concentric ripples are sent outward from the locus of activity. At right, meanwhile, fishermen set sail to catch the day’s haul. A yawl and schooner are docked at a harbour in the background, and beyond Aldeburgh itself is rendered in fine delineation. The Church of St Peter and St Paul can be seen at left and Fort Green tower mill, built in 1824 for grinding corn, is located close to the seafront.
Conspicuous atop the mound at right is Slaughden Martello Tower: the most northerly of a chain of defensive towers built along the South and East coasts of England in response to Napoleonic invasion. Constructed on Orford Ness between 1808 and 1812, the tower is quatrefoil shaped and had platforms for four guns.2 Turner appears to have diminished its proportions somewhat as the actual building is forty feet in diameter and the same in height.3
Aldborough, the Tate curator Ian Warrell writes, represents ‘one of Turner’s most evocative treatments of dawn’, owed largely to his techniques of production and handling.4 The dewy atmosphere of early morning is captured particularly in the polished and gleaming crystalline surface of the River Alde and in the all-encompassing glow of pale white-yellow sunlight rising above the Martello Tower. The pigment at the Tower’s top right edge is rubbed out, a detail which both enhances the brilliance of the dawn light and reminds the viewer of Turner’s study of optics. He has remembered that bright light blurs the contours of objects: an optical phenomenon that few contemporary artists thought to reproduce in their work.5
Turner was able to convey these atmospheric effects through the laying in of ‘generous fields of color’ as David Blayney Brown writes, developed by ‘delicate hatching or stippling with brilliant colour, using fine single-haired brushes, like a miniaturist or even a jeweller setting his gems’.6 This practice was once described by a colleague of Turner’s to the painter James Orrock (1829–1913). He remarked that the artist tended to work on numerous drawings at once, the papers stretched on boards after having been ‘plung[ed]’ into water. Turner then:
dropped the colours onto the paper while it was wet, making marblings and gradations throughout...His completing process was marvelously rapid, for he indicated his masses and incidents, took out half-lights, scraped out high-lights and dragged, hatched and stippled until the design was finished.7
Turner produced Aldborough, Suffolk in around 1826 from drawings made in the 1824 Norfolk, Sussex and Essex sketchbook (Tate D18266–D18272, D18299; Turner Bequest CCIX 56–59a, 82). It was commissioned by the London print publisher Charles Heath for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales scheme.8 Heath engaged Edward Goodall (1795–1870) to engrave Aldborough onto copperplate, and it was published in December 1827 as part of the third instalment of the series (Tate impressions T04521–T04522, T06076, T06628).9 Also published in this instalment was the engraving of Turner’s Orford, Suffolk (Private Collections, Tate impressions T04523–T04524, T06077).
Both Aldeburgh and Orford were chosen as subjects for the Picturesque Views on the East Coast of England, an engraving project initiated by Turner in around 1827.10 Preparatory drawings for this scheme are also found in the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex sketchbook (CCXI). Though Turner’s East Coast designs of Aldeburgh and Orford were engraved (see Tate impressions T06614, T06628), they were never published in his lifetime.

Alice Rylance-Watson
April 2015

‘Review of New Publications’ (No. 62 ‘Aldborough described’), The Gentleman’s Magazine, London 1819, vol.89, part II, pp.343–44.
‘History’, Martello Tower Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Landmark Trust, accessed 21 April 2015, http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/our-landmarks/properties/martello-tower-9306/#tabs=History
Warrell 1991, p.45 no.36.
Shanes 1991, p.174 no.144.
Blayney Brown 2007, p.14.
Quoted in Blayney Brown 2007, p.14.
For more information see Eric Shanes, ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’ entry in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.87.
Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, vol.I, pp.124–5 no.219 and Warrell 1991, p.45 no.36.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.405 under nos.897, 899, 901; see also Eric Shanes ‘Picturesque Views on the East Coast of England’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.82–3 and Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, vol.I, pp.169–173.

How to cite

Alice Rylance-Watson, ‘Aldborough, Suffolk c.1826 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, April 2015, 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-aldborough-suffolk-r1184478, accessed 23 May 2024.