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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight from Portsdown Hill 1827

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 38 Recto:
Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight from Portsdown Hill 1827
Turner Bequest CCXXVII 36
Pencil on white wove paper prepared with a grey wash, 110 x 185 mm
Inscribed by Turner ‘X’ five times above centre, over horizon, and again twice at centre in corresponding positions in distance
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘36’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCXXVII – 36’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Subsequent to Finberg’s 1909 Inventory, he noted a possible refinement to his identification of this drawing as a ‘View of the Solent’1 as ‘?Portsmouth Road, descent to Portsea Island | JPH’.2 The initials are those of the etcher and collector John Postle Heseltine (1843–1929), whose occasionally suggestions are noted in copies of the Inventory at Tate Britain (another case being in relation to folio 16 verso; D20757).
The viewpoint is probably on or near the London Road around the crest of Portsdown Hill, looking south-west to Portsmouth (on Portsea Island) in the centre, with the hulls and masts of ships indicated on a minute scale towards the right, and the undulations of the Isle of Wight beyond the Solent on the skyline.
The rough forms in the foreground presumably indicate one of the chalk pits which were formerly worked on the south face of the escarpment, perhaps the one beside the main road now landscaped as Cliffdale Gardens; there is a designated viewpoint above this feature along Portsdown Hill Road near Fort Widley. There are apparently figures or pack animals lower down at the bottom right, and possibly a nearer group of figures overlooking the scene at the centre left. There are nineteenth-century paintings of this view with rough chalk workings by the side of the road in the Portsmouth Museums collection: The London Road, Portsdown Hill of 1867 by George Cole (1810–1883) and View from Portsdown Looking towards Portsea Island by William James Callcott (c.1823–1900).
The squarish building towards the bottom right is apparently also seen on folio 31 verso (D20777; Turner Bequest CCXXVII 29), where aspects of the same vista are shown; for various views of Portsmouth scattered through this sketchbook, see under folio 10 recto (D20768).
Finberg 1909, II, p.699.
Undated MS notes by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, II, opposite p.699.
Technical notes:
The grey wash common to all the rectos in this sketchbook has been delicately scratched out with horizontal strokes to suggest sparkling reflections from the harbour and sea, catching the light of the bright afternoon sun which has been formed by rubbing away a small area of wash in the sky.

Matthew Imms
November 2015

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight from Portsdown Hill 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2015, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-portsmouth-harbour-and-the-isle-of-wight-from-portsdown-hill-r1182649, accessed 06 June 2020.