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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Moonlight on the Medway c.1824

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Moonlight on the Medway circa 1824
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 197 x 267 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 328’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
(see main catalogue entry)
The study for another unpublished Liber Studiorum subject, The Felucca (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) is similar to the present sheet in terms of the paper and pigments used, and both appear to be whole pages from the same sketchbook, which Gillian Forrester has suggested was the dispersed ‘Munro’ book,1 watermarked 1822 and probably in use at Farnley, Yorkshire, in 1824; 2 the two compositions may have been intended as a contrasting pair in the ‘Marine’ category. The Medway and the Thames Estuary feature in other Liber subjects – The Leader Sea Piece (for drawing see Tate D08125; Turner Bequest CXVI X), and the unengraved Shipping at the Entrance of the Medway (Tate N02942).
The present composition can be compared with Turner’s Rivers of England watercolours of about the same date, showing boats on the Medway in daylight: Stangate Creek, on the River Medway (Tate D18134; Turner Bequest CCVIII A),3 The Medway (Tate D18149; Turner Bequest CCVIII P),4 and the related On the Medway (private collection),5 developed as a ‘Little Liber’ engraving (see note below). There is also an unrelated, moonlit ‘Marine’ subject among the unpublished Liber designs: Moonlight at Sea (Tate D08176; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII V).
Forrester has suggested that Turner may have been motivated by two moonlight compositions by Thomas Gainsborough ‘exhibited by artificial light’ at W.B. Cooke’s London gallery in 1824, when Turner’s works were also shown.6 The Gainsboroughs were wooded landscapes from the series of transparencies – for which he had designed a special viewing box – now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,7 the second including ‘a prominent sheet of water, ... brilliantly lit by moonlight’.8 They were said to ‘represent the effects of nature more powerfully than any picture or drawing can possibly do.’9 As Forrester also notes,10 another possible influence is John Crome’s Moonrise on the Yare (Tate N02645), which Turner may have known in the collection of his Norfolk acquaintance Dawson Turner (no relation); it also shows a river with sails and a windmill in silhouette.11
The drawing was shown as ‘Moonlight’ in the long-standing ‘Second Loan Collection’ (1869–1931); although Finberg had presumably examined it (‘Moonlight on river. ... Possibly leaf of sketch book’)12 in 1907 or 1909 when the collection touched base at the National Gallery, it was apparently in Bootle from 1915 to 1922 and Burnley from 1922 to 1924,13 and was not included in the comprehensive Liber exhibition held at the Tate Gallery and the Whitworth Institute, Manchester, between 1921 and 1923.14 Apparently it had yet to be recognized as the original study for the plate, as the typescript list of exhibits notes: ‘It is not known where the drawing for this plate is.’15 Finberg did include and reproduce it in his 1924 Liber catalogue. Rawlinson noted a drawing for this composition in Henry Vaughan’s collection and subsequent bequest to the National Gallery,16 but it is not otherwise recorded and not among the Vaughan drawings kept with the Turner Bequest.
The composition is possibly indicated, as ‘Moon’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX);17 however, Forrester notes that this seems more likely to be a reference to Moonlight at Sea (see above), since the present drawing probably dates from several years later on technical grounds, as discussed.18
The mezzotint engraving (without etching), probably by Henry Dawe, was among the unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91;19 see also Tate D08170–D08178; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X; and Tate N02782, N03631). Tate does not hold any impressions.
In 1920, Frank Short etched and mezzotinted this composition,20 as one of his interpretations of the unpublished Liber plates (Tate T05068;21 see general Liber introduction).
Forrester 1996, pp.146, 152.
See A.J. Finberg, ‘Turner’s Newly Identified Yorkshire Sketch-book’, Connoisseur, vol.46, October 1935, pp.185–7; Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, pp.286–7.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.386 no.746, reproduced.
Ibid., p.386 no.749, reproduced.
Ibid., pp.388–9 no.765, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, p.152 and note 4.
John Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, London 1982, vol.II, respectively pp.498–9 no.134, reproduced p.498, and p.553, no.172, reproduced p.552.
Ibid., p.553.
Somerset House Gazette, vol.2, 10 April 1824, p.8, quoted in ibid., I, p.142.
Forrester 1996, p.152.
Norman L. Goldberg, John Crome the Elder, Oxford 1978, pp.185–6 no.33, pl.33.
Finberg 1909, II, p.839.
For full venues and dates see Warrell 1991, p.43.
The Liber Studiorum by Turner: Drawings, Etchings, and First State Mezzotint Engravings with Some Additional Engravers’ Proofs and 51 of the Original Copperplates, National Gallery, Millbank [Tate Gallery], London, November 1921–November 1922; Original Drawings, Etchings, Mezzotints, and Copperplates for the “Liber Studiorum” by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Whitworth Institute Art Galleries, Manchester, December 1922–March 1923.
TS list, [circa 1921], Tate exhibition files, Tate Archive TG 92/9/2, p.5.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, Turner’s Liber Studiorum, A Description and a Catalogue, London 1878, p.164; ... Second Edition, Revised Throughout, London 1906, p.191.
Forrester 1996, p.163 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.151 note 2.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Hardie 1938, pp.65–6 no.31, reproduced p.[105] pl.XIII A.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.76.
Technical notes:
Brown and blue washes have been applied, with the moon probably stopped out beforehand. A sepia-like grey wash was used, with a mixed, dull pale green along the lower edge; the watercolour was also worked with the fingers; prints are evident in the sails and hulls and their reflections. The overall colour is largely made up of muted browns, the pigments being Prussian blue, warm brown with ochre/umber, transparent pale pink and an organic red, present as larger aggregates (perhaps because its smaller particles have faded).1 As has been observed,2 the fluid technique and use of additional colours beyond the ‘sepia’ range of earlier Liber designs mark a transitional style moving towards the chiaroscuro effects of the ‘Little Liber’ mezzotints of the mid-1820s (see general Liber introduction).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Forrester 1996, p.146.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil descending vertically ‘328’ top left, ascending vertically ‘49’ centre, ‘1255’ bottom left, and ‘CCLXIII – 328 ?’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[Turner Bequest monogram] | CCLXIII – 328’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Moonlight on the Medway c.1824 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, 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-moonlight-on-the-medway-r1131784, accessed 23 June 2024.