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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Dover c.1825

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Dover c.1825
Turner Bequest CCVIII U
Pencil and watercolour on white wove watercolour paper, 161 x 245 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner with accounts on verso (see main catalogue entry)
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Dover, being the nearest British port to the Continent, has always retained ‘strong symbolic associations as Britain’s premier gateway and bastion’ the curator James Hamilton writes.1 Dover Castle, whose keep and outer curtain walls are sunlit in the drawing atop the precipitous headland, was built in the 1180s for Henry II and completed under his successor Henry III.2 The castle was refortified from the 1750s and further modifications for artillery followed during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.3
A steamship, symbolic of the modernism of the age, is incorporated into this view. Silhouetted against the white cliffs, the packet underscores, writes James Hamilton, ‘Turner’s view of the patriotic importance of Dover in Regency Britain’.4 The intrepid vessel, presumably the regular cross-Channel passenger service to Calais, ‘steams cheerily out to sea, while all around it sailing ships do the wind’s will, and oarsmen puff and pant’.5 The steam issuing from its chimney is rendered, as Eric Shanes writes, in ‘an adroitly simple squiggle’, perhaps one of the reasons why a reviewer from the Athenaeum remarked that the packet resembled a toy-like ‘puppet boat’.6 Turner’s diminutive, sooty machine plunged into shadow makes manifest the sentiments of the American inventor and painter Samuel Finley Breese Morse who called the Dover-Calais steamers ‘small, black, dirty, confined things’.7 The shipping surrounding the steamer, from the left, is ‘a gig with its lugsail being set and its crew hauling on the oars’; a ‘lobster boat with fishermen waiting patiently with folded arms’; in the distance the skeletal timbers of ‘beached, wrecked brig’; ‘a small, heavily laden hoy’; a ‘lugger’, and finally ‘the ubiquitous Turnerian brig’.8
Ruskin disapproved of Turner’s ‘habit of local exaggeration’, manifest largely in the cliffs which ‘make the town at their feet three times lower in proportionate height than it really is’.9 As a result Ruskin observed that the barracks on the left hand of the cliff had ‘the air of a hospice on the top of an Alpine precipice’.10 The ‘rest of the composition’, he writes, is ‘more commonplace than is usual with the great master; but there are beautiful transitions of light and shade between the sails of the little fishing-boat, the brig behind her, and the cliffs’.11
The basis for this watercolour is the colour study in the Ports of England sketchbook (Tate D17733; Turner Bequest CCII 14). A similar composition and colour range to the present drawing is found in a colour beginning entitled Cliffs from the Sea (Tate D17759; Turner Bequest CCIII B). The unfinished watercolour Off Dover of about 1825 (Lady Lever Art Gallery) is probably a preparatory study for the present drawing because of its ‘size, subject, and probable date’, according to Eric Shanes.12 Turner ‘often made colour studies for his works and occasionally he must have developed these beginnings to an advanced stage. This appears to be one such work’.13
Other finished watercolours of Dover produced after 1822 include the large-scale composition for the Marine Views series (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and another view taken further to the west of the town at Shakespeare’s Cliff in about 1825 for the Southern Coast series (currently untraced).14 A further view is Straits of Dover produced in about 1825 for the England and Wales series (currently untraced). Preparatory colour studies for these views include Tate D25308, D25392, D25502, D17737; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 186, 269, 378, CCII 18.
Dover is the subject of a large number of Turner’s loose drawings and sketchbooks. There are his highly wrought pencil studies of shipping and executed in 1793 (Tate D00163–D00165, D00167, D00170, D00172; Turner Bequest XVI A–C, E, F, H, J) and similarly worked pencil and watercolour drawings produced in collaboration with Thomas Girtin between 1795 and 1796 (Tate D36616–D36624; Turner Bequest CCCLXXVIII 1–9). For sketchbooks which feature Dover as subject see the Hastings sketchbook of about 1816–8 (Tate D10363–D10364; Turner Bequest CXXXIX 18a–19); the Richmond Hill; Hastings to Margate sketchbook of the same date (Tate D10456, D10468, D10473–D10474; Turner Bequest CXL 25, 31, 33a–34). See also the later Folkestone sketchbook of about 1821 (Tate D17211, D17283, D17323, D17329; Turner Bequest CXCVIII 3, 46, 68a, 71a); the Holland sketchbook of 1825 (Tate D18842–D18844, D19345–D19346, D19349–D19369; D19372–D19375D19377, D19379–D18381; Turner Bequest CCXIV 1a–2a, 254a–255, 256a–266a, 268–270a, 271a–272 a); and the Holland, Meuse and Cologne sketchbook of about 1825 (Tate D19401–D19404, D19406–D19409, D19312–D19313; Turner Bequest CCXV 1–2a, 3a–5, 6a–7).
This drawing was engraved in mezzotint by Thomas Lupton and was published in 1827 (Tate impressions T0428–T0429).
Hamilton 1998, p.78.
Bryant 1996, p.40.
Hamilton 1998, p.78
Athenaeum, 26 July 1856, p.923 quoted in Rodner 1997, p.26.
Quoted in Rodner 1997, p.26.
Shanes 1990, p.132, no.104 (colour).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.51.
Ibid, p.52.
Shanes 1990, p.147, no.117 (colour).
Warrell 1991, p.36, no.20
Here Turner has inscribed a list of expenses incurred on a journey through Kent. The towns and ports of Folkestone, Deal, Sandwich, Canterbury, Whitstable, Faversham are listed with corresponding figures in pounds, shillings and pence written next to them at right.1
    & Gs_________      2.6 
 [Fol]kestone          5 
 [Deal]                4 
 [Sandw]ich            4 
 ou Bill            1  5 
 [Can]terby            9 
 Bill                  5 
 [Whi]tstable ____     5 
 [Faver]sham ____      5 
 [C]oach to London  11
                    5 10 
The reader will notice that the sum makes little numerical sense, rather unusual given Turner's usually diligent bookkeeping. After many attempts, this cataloguer has not been at all successful in attempting to make the numbers add up. In addition, the drawing’s current mount covers the top two digits and the majority of the text at left. It has been therefore impossible to double check whether other numbers had at one point been erased or cut off when the paper was trimmed.
The verso also stamped in black with the Turner Bequest monogram at centre and with ‘CCVIII U’ at centre towards top and inscribed in pencil ‘U’ at centre towards left and ‘42’ towards top left.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

This inscription is copied from Ian Warrell, Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, p.36, no.20 reproduced.

How to cite

Alice Rylance-Watson, ‘Dover c.1825 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-dover-r1148288, accessed 25 May 2024.