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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Bligh Sands: Study after 'Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In' c.1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Bligh Sands: Study after ‘Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In’ circa 1809
Turner Bequest CXX Q
Watercolour white wove lightweight writing paper, 231 x 355 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1807’
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXX- | Q’ bottom left
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXX – Q’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The present drawing relates closely to the oil painting exhibited at Turner’s gallery in 1809 as Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In (Tate N00496),1 again in 1810 as Blyth Sand, and at the Royal Academy in 1815 as Bligh Sand, near Sheerness: Fishing Boats Trawling; the feature, on the southern shore of the Thames Estuary between Gravesend and Sheerness, is now generally known as ‘Blyth Sands’. The use of brown watercolour washes and limited tonal range suggest Turner was considering adapting the composition as a ‘Marine’ subject for the Liber Studiorum; it may have been rejected as too similar to the design known as The Leader Sea Piece (for drawing see Tate D08125; Turner Bequest CXVI X).
As Andrew Wilton has noted, Turner simplified the composition to ‘a scheme of broad tones focused on the sharp contrast of the two sails on the left’2 to which detail would have been introduced at a later stage. The corresponding details, not just of the boats but also the clouds (though brought lower to just above the tip of the mast) and areas of the foreground which relate closely to tonal divisions in the painting, appear to indicate that Turner made a freehand transcription directly from the oil, rather than re-developing the subject from memory or sketches. 1809, the date of the oil’s first exhibition, is here suggested for the present work too, since Turner had been working on new and adapted designs for the Liber Studiorum since 1806. However, as the painting remained in Turner’s possession he would have remained free to consult it, so a later date is possible since publication of the Liber continued until 1819.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.65 no.87, pl.97 (colour).
Wilton 1977, p.27.
Technical notes:
The work was catalogued by Finberg in a grouping of monochrome studies,1 but has been identified as originating in the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV),2 other sheets of which bear the same watermark. Stitching holes are apparent where the sheet was roughly trimmed on the left, but it is not possible to establish its original location in the book by matching it to the stubs that remain there. Comparison with the remaining pages shows that it was also trimmed on the right (using a straight edge) by about an inch (25 mm).
The warm brown washes were laid in rapidly and do not extend consistently to the edges of the sheet, which would presumably have been trimmed all round had the design been completed. The dark band of sea, with its crisp edge, was possibly laid in first, as there is a thin, reserved strip above it, corresponding to the sunlit sea in the painting and extending upwards to form bright sails in places, defined only by the surrounding washes of the sky, which was worked over again to indicate clouds, some of the sails then being washed over. The main boat, in shadow against the sky, was washed in deftly without a pencil outline, and a flag added to the top of the mast. The washes of the hull merge with a further dark layer applied to the sea below. All the edges were masked when the drawing was first mounted for exhibition; the exposed central area suffered severe fading during prolonged early touring.3
The approach is similar to that used in another unengraved study from an existing sea piece, originally in the same sketchbook (Tate D08098; Turner Bequest CXV 45).
Finberg 1909, I, pp.327–32, CXX, ‘Miscellaneous: black and white (2)’.
Forrester 1996, p.24 note 81; Peter Bower, Tate conservation files.
For dates and venues see Warrell 1991, p.46.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘12’ centre, ‘D.08231’ bottom left, and ‘CXX – Q’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[Turner Bequest monogram] | CXX – Q’ bottom left
There are some brown wash marks at the right (i.e. the inside edge when bound in the sketchbook), possibly where the brush was wiped or tested while working on the next page.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Bligh Sands: Study after ‘Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In’ c.1809 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-bligh-sands-study-after-fishing-upon-the-blythe-sand-tide-r1131854, accessed 25 June 2024.