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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Cliffs above a Beach, with Breaking Waves and an Overcast Sky, Perhaps on the Adriatic Coast 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 13 Recto:
Cliffs above a Beach, with Breaking Waves and an Overcast Sky, Perhaps on the Adriatic Coast 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 13
Watercolour on white wove paper, 226 x 287 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘13’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXI – 13’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This page and folio 12 recto (D15263) have both been treated with broadly brushed horizontal washes of colour suggesting a generic scene of waves off a beach and cliffs below a dark sky; in each case the beach recedes towards pinkish cliffs on the right, painted within a reserved area above the horizon. They and the more serene, barely articulated shore scenes on folios 10 recto and 11 recto (D15261–D15262) are of the type Finberg called ‘colour beginnings’, among which are the best known are the separate sheets in Turner Bequest section CCLXIII;1 for a discussion of the function of such works in general, see the Introduction to the ‘England and Wales Colour Studies c.1825–39’ section.2
Finberg used the same undifferentiated description for all four of the pages here: ‘Commencement of a water colour drawing’.3 Martin Butlin has described the use of ‘basic colours representing the foreground, distance and sky, of a kind that may have been the starting-out point for some of the other sketches’, meaning the watercolours of Lake Como, Milan and Venice earlier in the sketchbook (see the Introduction), which share horizontal colour structures, developed and articulated by elements of landscape and architecture.4 Butlin has declared that the ‘two stormy coast scenes’ (this and D15263) were ‘probably made on the Adriatic coast’,5 on Turner’s route, after Venice and Bologna, south-east between Rimini and Ancona (see the Introduction to the contemporary Venice to Ancona sketchbook; Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXVI).
In their handling and impression of provisional immediacy and strong lighting, this work and D15263 are comparable with some of the working compositions probably created a few years later and associated with English subjects for the ongoing Southern Coast project (such as Tate D25410, D25426, D25437; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 287, 303, 314). Even in the 1840s, Turner was still evoking his reactions to such effects, for instance in the Ideas of Folkestone sketchbook (Tate D35361, D25385; Turner Bequest CCCLVI 1, 24).
See Finberg 1909, II, pp.814–45.
See also Eric Shanes, ‘Beginnings’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.21–3; among many other accounts, see also Andrew Wilton in Martin Butlin, Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.26; and Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.187.
Finberg 1909, I, p.535.
Butlin 1962, p.36; see also Gage 1969, p.32, Butlin 1975, p.38, and Shanes 1997, p.36.
Butlin 1962, p.36, and Butlin 1975, p.38.
Blank; there are irregular patches of loose blue wash extending about 20 mm from the gutter, presumably continued from more controlled areas on a page then bound opposite, apparently as the last of the sequence of watercolours executed in the first third or so of the sketchbook. This may have been a third seascape or beach scene, following on from those executed in more sombre colours on folio 12 recto and the recto of here (D15263–D15264). Although he did not mention the traces directly, they were presumably what prompted Finberg to note at this point in his 1909 Inventory: ‘(1 leaf with colour on cut out.)’1

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Finberg 1909, I, p.535.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Cliffs above a Beach, with Breaking Waves and an Overcast Sky, Perhaps on the Adriatic Coast 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-cliffs-above-a-beach-with-breaking-waves-and-an-overcast-sky-r1186404, accessed 24 May 2024.