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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Coast of Yorkshire c.1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Coast of Yorkshire circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVII B
Pencil and watercolour on white wove writing paper, 184 x 262 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘COAST OF YORKSHIRE. | near Whitby.’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
On his way to Scotland in 1801, Turner travelled along the Yorkshire coast north from Scarborough, and made the pencil drawing (Ruskin School Collection, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)1 which was the source for this Liber Studiorum composition. The Oxford sketch was originally a leaf of the Smaller Fonthill sketchbook (some pages at Tate; Turner Bequest XLVIII); several other Liber designs were derived from the same book: Drawing of the Clyde (indirectly), Rivaux Abbey and Dumblain Abbey, Scotland (for drawings see Tate D08122, D08154, D08157; Turner Bequest CXVI U, CXVII Z, CXVIII C), and Solway Moss.2
The original drawing is rapid and nervous, with the cliffs almost entirely lacking in detail, and no indication of time of day, weather or the state of the sea; the foreground is slightly more developed with intermittent heavy shading defining the rocks, and there are three or four tiny figures in the distance on the right. However, as Herrmann has noted, in the Liber drawing the scene ‘was transformed into a dramatic episode; the small figures become survivors from a shipwreck, surrounded by angry seas, threatening sky and much local incident.’3 Indeed, Gillian Forrester compares the mood and intention of the composition to the dramatic 1804 oil An Avalanche in the Alps (Tate, T00772) by the London-based, Alsatian painter Philippe Jacques (Philip James) de Loutherbourg, which Turner could have seen when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy or in the collection of his patron Sir John Leicester.4 In Turner’s composition, the snow is replaced by sea spray, but the sense of humanity at the mercy of greater forces of is similar. The rocky foreground is similar to that depicted in another Liber drawing of about the same date showing Dunstanburgh Castle, about a hundred miles to the north on the same coast (Tate D08118; Turner Bequest CXVI Q).
The composition is recorded, as ‘5[:] 3 Coast of Yorkshire’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)5 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.6 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Coast of Yorkshire’, in a list of ‘Marine’ subjects (Tate D12164; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 27a).7
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘COAST OF YORKSHIRE. | near Whitby.’ in part 5 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.22–26;8 see also Tate D08127, D08128, D08130, D08131; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII A, C, D). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00958) and the published engraving (A00959). It is one of nine published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Marine’ category (see also Tate D08104, D08105, D08114, D08125, D08133, D08138; CXVI C, D, M, X, CXVII F, K).
Herrmann 1968, pp.89–90 no.66, pl.XLII D.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–8 no.52; 1906, pp.125–8 no.52; Finberg 1924, pp.205–8 no.52.
Herrmann 1968, p.90; see also Brooke 1885, p.83.
Forrester 1996, p.73.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Technical notes:
There is a small surface loss to the cliffs on the left. There is very light and vague pencil sketching, overlaid with heavy wash strokes to indicate the most prominent lines of the composition. The overall brown colour results from the use of one umber pigment. All lights have been scratched out rather than reserved, with the sea birds made from one brushstroke and a scratch.1 Rawlinson noted the difficulty of preserving Turner’s subtle atmospheric effects once they were translated into mezzotint: ‘In the Drawing, and in very early impressions of the Print, the sea is very fine, especially the effect of the spray driving up the cliffs. This was, however, too delicate a piece of engraver’s work to stand much printing’.2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Rawlinson 1878, p.53.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘12’ [circled] and ‘B’ centre, and ‘D.08129’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – B’ bottom left
Thin tape and the residue of mounting are evident all round the edges, with extensive grey-brown spatterings (of wash?); the right-hand two thirds of the sheet are darkened and rubbed.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Coast of Yorkshire c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2009, 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-coast-of-yorkshire-r1131731, accessed 19 June 2024.