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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?Firing Rockets at Great Yarmouth, Possibly Related to 'Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus Going Off' c.1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
?Firing Rockets at Great Yarmouth, Possibly Related to ‘Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus Going Off’ c.1831
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 134
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 220 x 289 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in blue ink ‘1597’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCLXIV – 134’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg first connected this blustery coastal scene, which he called ‘Firing rockets on the coast. Probably at Yarmouth’,1 Norfolk, with the painting Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus Going Off to a Stranded Vessel Making Signal (Blue Lights) of Distress, exhibited in 1831 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).2 The dramatic narrative composition depicts Captain G.W. Manby’s ‘lightball’ (effectively a small cannonball with burning fuses, fired from a mortar rather than rocket-propelled), descending somewhat perilously over a ship firing flares, to deliver an attached rope to reel it in.3 Its trajectory from the shore is not emphasised, however (see also the 1859 engraving; Tate impression: T06337).
Most later sources have followed Finberg with varying degrees of certainty.4 Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll have concurred that the present work ‘depicts firing rockets on the coast’ and ‘appears definitely to represent Yarmouth as both the pier and the Nelson Monument are shown’.5 While noting Graham Reynolds’s idea of it as a study for the painting rather than a sketch of it from memory,6 they observe that ‘the handling is so loose that it may date from after 1831’.7 The majority of Turner’s direct sketches of Great Yarmouth are in the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex sketchbook of 1824 (Tate; Turner Bequest CCIX).
Andrew Wilton has differed completely, describing the subject as a study of a rainbow over a pier, and suggesting that its fresh greys and greens could rather associate it with studies made along the French coast at Dieppe in 1845;8 compare for example Tate D35476 (Turner Bequest CCCLX 18) in the Dieppe sketchbook. The pale arc over the horizon corresponds with the oddly colourless rainbows in late studies such as Tate D34993 or D36302 (Turner Bequest CCCXLV 21, CCCLXV 12). Nevertheless, reflecting the otherwise long-standing consensus, the present work remains associated with the Yarmouth painting here, although a definite connection is effectively unprovable given the compositional differences.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1185.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.189 no.336, pl.338 (colour).
See Hamilton 1998, pp.88– 9, and figs.87 and 88.
See Isaacs 1950, p.14, Reynolds 1968, p.85, Reynolds 1969, p.76, Hamilton 1998, p.139, Shanes 1997, pp.30, 100, and Riding and Johns 2013, p.222.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.189.
See Reynolds 1969, p.76.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.189.
See Wilton 1983, p.305.
Technical notes:
There is closed tear running 23 mm in from the left-hand edge.
Blank; there are slight marks in chalk or crayon towards the bottom left, with a horizontal stroke and a vertical not quite intersecting above a rounded shape. It is unclear whether these are intended as letters, numbers or a diagram, or who made them.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?Firing Rockets at Great Yarmouth, Possibly Related to ‘Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus Going Off’ c.1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-firing-rockets-at-great-yarmouth-possibly-related-to-life-r1184447, accessed 26 May 2024.