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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner An Overcast Sky above a Landscape c.1820-40

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
An Overcast Sky above a Landscape c.1820–40
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 277
Watercolour on white wove paper, 168 x 244 mm
Inscribed in red ink ‘277’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 277’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This sheet’s Turner Bequest number is stamped on the recto and the associated monogram on the verso (D40146; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 277v) respectively as now mounted, but it is difficult conclusively to differentiate Finberg’s titles for the two, respectively ‘River, with mountains’ and ‘A stretch of sands’.1 The present, numbered, side is the less developed, suggesting a grey, overcast sky above a yellowish landscape, while the verso comprises more varied forms with a cleared distinction between landscape and sky.
Andrew Wilton linked CCLXIII ‘277’ along with other slight, atmospheric studies, to Tate D25385 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 262), a composition Finberg called ‘The grey mountains’,2 since identified as an 1836 view of Mont Blanc and its surroundings: ‘All are very freely handled ... [with] a mood of expansion and exaltation in the face of the ineffable an ungraspable reality of nature’.3
Whether, as Wilton suggested, the present sheet may have some topographical connection to Turner’s 1830s travels in Europe will probably remain a matter for speculation. In any event, Jeremy Robinson has described it as ‘an extraordinary picture: nothing but sulphur yellow and lead grey here ... in its ruthless reduction of nature into but two light colours it is comparable with the colour experiments of Josef Albers [1888–1976] ... Though their aesthetic theories were very different, both Turner and Albers are much concerned with the inter-acting motions of colours in various states of tonality.’4 This is in the critical tradition of Turner as proto-Modernist, particularly regarding his unfinished (or barely started) ‘colour beginnings’; see the overall introduction to this section and under Tate D25412 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 289).

Matthew Imms
March 2016

Finberg 1909, II, p.835
Ibid., p.834.
Wilton 1980, p.[173].
Robinson 1989, p.58.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘An Overcast Sky above a Landscape c.1820–40 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-an-overcast-sky-above-a-landscape-r1183195, accessed 20 July 2024.