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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Marine Dabblers c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Marine Dabblers circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII F
Watercolour on white wove writing paper, 176 x 260 mm
Image includes words ‘TH OWNER’ on stern of boat, centre left
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, ‘Marine Dabblers’, published Turner, [?1] June 1811
Along with Juvenile Tricks and Young Anglers (see Tate D08127, D08136; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII I) this composition is one of three Liber Studiorum subjects showing boys playing. In Modern Painters, Ruskin praised them as an aspect of ‘a range of feeling which no other painter, as far as I know, can equal. He cannot, for instance, draw children at play as well as [William] Mulready; but just glean out of his works the evidence of his sympathy’.1 The anxiety of the child at the loss of a toy in the shallows foreshadows the dangers of setting out in real boats, to which the men shown in the background are accustomed.2
No direct source for the present design is known, though the theme of children playing by the sea was one addressed by Turner on numerous occasions.3 Gillian Forrester has suggested the ‘metaphorical significance’4 of the lost boat in relation to a similar incident in the foreground of the painting Dido Building Carthage; or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited 1815 (National Gallery, London, NG498).5 Years later, Turner appears to have remembered the present composition when he scribbled its title on a rapid sketch which may show a child launching a toy boat (Tate D22514; Turner Bequest CCXLI 46a); he showed another mortified child on the shore in his late painting The New Moon; or, ‘I’ve lost My Boat, You shan’t have Your Hoop’, exhibited 1840 (Tate N00526).6
The composition is recorded, as ‘7[:] 3 Marine Dabblers’, 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)7 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.8 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘1 Dabblers’, in a list of ‘Marine’ subjects (Tate D12164; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 27a).9
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, bears the publication date June 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Marine Dabblers’ in part 6 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.27–31;10 see also Tate N02941 and D08132, D08134, D08135; Turner Bequest CXVII E, G, H). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00968) and the published engraving (A00969). It is one of nine published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Marine’ category (see also Tate D08104, D08105, D08114, D08125, D08129, D08138; CXVI C, D, M, X, CXVII B, K).
Cook and Wedderburn VI 1904, p.26.
See Brooke 1885, p.97.
Forrester 1996, p.80 note 1; see also note 3.
Ibid., p.80.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.94–6 no.131, pl.133 (colour).
Ibid., p.238 no.386, pl.389 (colour); see also Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.42.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.59–68; 1906, pp.69–79; Finberg 1924, pp.105–24.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘J Whatman | 1801’; the same paper – made at Turkey Mill in Kent by William Balston and the Hollingworth Brothers – and Indian Red pigment were used for Juvenile Tricks and Young Anglers, and for a further Liber design, Hedging and Ditching (Tate CXVII W; Turner Bequest D08151).1 Washes were applied leaving reserves for lights, with more washing than brushwork evident. Scratching-out was employed for the gulls and foreground details, and there is some washing-out for the figures. The words ‘THE OWNER’, marked on the stern to the left (but omitted from the print and of uncertain, possibly humorous, significance2), was washed out with clear water. The overall colour is a very warm brown, due to the Indian red shade of the pigment.3 There is a closed tear to the upper left corner; the paper is thin due to abrasions on the back, and as a result there is almost a small hole, in the area of the sail above the ‘N’ of ‘OWNER’.
Forrester 1996, pp.70, 71 note 1, 80 (paper analysis by Peter Bower, and pigment analysis by Joyce Townsend, acknowledged p.8).
Ibid., p.80.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘F’ and ‘16’ [circled] centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – F’ bottom left
There are some abrasions where the sheet was previously stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Marine Dabblers c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-marine-dabblers-r1131736, accessed 19 June 2024.