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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Light-Towers of la Hève (Vignette) c.1832

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Light-Towers of la Hève (Vignette) c.1832
Turner Bequest CCLIX 136
Pencil gouache and watercolour with pen on blue paper, 187 x 133 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil with numerals ‘1’ to ‘31’ towards bottom edge, and less legibly with column of numerals down left-hand edge
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CCLIX – 136’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
By John Cousen in 1833, published in 1834.
In this vignette watercolour, Turner evokes a moonlit view over sailing vessels beneath the two light-houses perched high on a cliff at the cape of La Hève, on the Seine Estuary just north of the port of Le Havre, in northern France. Turner conveys the scene with drama and delicacy. He exaggerates the height of the cliff for pictorial effect. Against the moonlight flooding the view, from the smaller dark boats in the foreground, fishermen draw in their nets. Behind these vessels, a graceful white sailing ship contrasts with a black smoky steamboat. This juxtaposition of sailboats and steamboats as symbols of old and new is a motif in Turner’s art. It is also presented in two other watercolours in this series, Between Quillebeuf and Villequier, c.1832 (Tate D24669; Turner Bequest CCLIX 104), Le Havre: Tour de François Ier, c.1832 (D24699; CCLIX 134) and most famously in the oil painting The Fighting ‘Temeraire’ of 1839 (Turner Bequest, National Gallery, London1).2
An engraving was made from the watercolour by Robert Wallace in 1833, as Light-Towers of the Heve (Tate impression T05593) as the frontispiece for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 1834.3 The choice of this subject as the frontispiece may be a further indication of the importance of the sailing and steam vessel juxtaposition motif to Turner.
Turner made several preliminary studies for this design. Initial pencil sketches (Tate D24054–D24055; Turner Bequest CCLIV 87a, 88) are in his Seine and Paris sketchbook of 1832.4 There are also several colour studies (Tate D24566–D24567; Turner Bequest CCLIX 1, 2;5 and D24645; CCLIX 80).6
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.229–31 no.377, pl.381 (colour).
Lyles 1992, p.61; Egerton, Wyld and Roy 1995, pp.62, 64, 85.
Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1834, appearing as the frontispiece.
Wilton 1979, p.412 no.951; Egerton, Wyld and Roy 1995, p.135 no.41.
Wilton 1979, p.412 no.951; Warrell 1999, p.273.
Wilton 1979, p.412 no.951 and see pp.418–419.
Blank; at the time of writing the work was on loan and not available for inspection and confirmation.

Caroline South
November 2017

How to cite

Caroline South, ‘Light-Towers of la Hève (Vignette) c.1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-light-towers-of-la-heve-vignette-r1195810, accessed 27 June 2022.