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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Scarborough c.1825

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Scarborough c.1825
Turner Bequest CCVIII I
Watercolour and pencil on white wove paper, 157 x 225 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Bathed in a radiant pale yellow light, Turner depicts the harbour of Scarborough, Yorkshire on the North Sea coast on a quiet morning. Indeed the sense of stillness evoked in this view is probably due to the fact that out of the six Ports designs originally published this is the only view ‘taken from the safety of the shoreline’.1 In the foreground a cutter is drawn up on the foreshore, its wares being unloaded into horse-drawn carts in the surf. A shrimper forages in the sands, tilting her head towards her a spotted dog looking at her eagerly. A small and pale coral coloured starfish can be seen between them; starfish becoming a curious feature of all of Turner’s Scarborough views made after 1809. The creature was probably a symbolic for Turner of a particular memory of a visit to the Scarborough beaches.2 Washerwomen are dotted at the water’s edge. Following the curve of the cove around is a number of moored vessels marking out the harbour: the focus of Scarborough’s thriving fishing industry. Beyond, atop the precipitous rocky promontory and rendered in faint wash, is St Mary’s Church and then Scarborough Castle, built by Henry II in the twelfth century.3 The fortress, which was battered by the Roundheads’ cannon in the English Civil War, lends the scene a sense of historical and picturesque grandeur, a sense accentuated by the stature of the headland. The art historians Lindsay Stainton and Richard S. Schneiderman write that it was a characteristic of Turner to depart ‘from strict topographical fact’ and to attenuate ‘the length of the headland to create the effect of a sheer cliff’.4 This is certainly apparent in the present watercolour.
For John Ruskin, the drawing was the epitome of ‘Turner’s calmness...uniting as it does the glittering of the morning clouds, and trembling of the sea, with an infinitude of peace in both’.5 He analysed the specific ways Turner achieved the atmosphere of tranquillity and harmony in Scarborough, writing: ‘Reflection and Repetition are peaceful things...observe the...doubling of every object by a visible echo or shadow throughout this picture. The grandest feature of it is the steep distant cliff; and therefore the dualism is more marked here than elsewhere; the two promontories or cliffs, and two piers below them, being arranged so that the one looks almost like the shadow of the other, cast irregularly on mist’.6 Ruskin then goes on to list where other instances of this pictorial ‘dualism’ occur, finishing his description with the affirmative: ‘and the Calm is complete’.7
There are a number of ‘colour beginnings’ that may be related to this view. The first, rendered with fluid and summary wash, dates from about 1809 (Tate D17167; Turner Bequest CXCVI C) and the second, offering a more detailed treatment of the landscape and with a colour range more closely related to the finished watercolour, dates from about 1820 (Tate D17166; Turner Bequest CXCVI B). A further possible colour sketch for this design is Tate D25149; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 27.8
Andrew Wilton writes that a colour sketch in the Ports of England sketchbook, entitled Dover Castle from Shakespeare Cliff, is a preparatory illustration for this view (Tate D17737; Turner Bequest CCII 18).9 Although this drawing does bear compositional relation to the present finished watercolour, the study is now believed to depict Dover (Tate D18154; Turner Bequest CCVIII U) and not Scarborough.
For other of Turner’s views of Scarborough see the two finished watercolour drawings of 1809 and 1811 respectively: Scarborough Castle: Boys Crab Fishing (Wallace Collection, London) and Scarborough Town and Castle: Morning, Boys Catching Crabs (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide).10 See also the Chester sketchbook of c.1801 (Tate D05091–D05092; Turner Bequest LXXXII 16–7); the Dunbar sketchbook of the same date (Tate D02770–D02771; Turner Bequest LIV 95a–96); and the Scarborough 1 sketchbook of about 1816–8 (Tate D11917, D11926, D11929, D11942–D11945; Turner Bequest CL 3, 10, 12, 23–6).
This drawing was engraved in mezzotint by Thomas Lupton and published in 1826 (Tate impressions T04823–T04834, T06372).

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

Warrell 1991, p.37, no.21 reproduced.
Shanes 1990, p.130, no.102 reproduced (colour).
Bryant 1996, p.76.
Quoted in Stainton and Schneiderman 1982, p.27, no.26.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.74.
Ibid, p.75.
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Watercolour Explorations 1810–1842, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.100 Appendix I ‘Ports of England Series’, 101 Appendix I ‘Sea Sketches and Studies’.
Wilton 1975, p.64, no.91.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.360, nos. 527–8.

How to cite

Alice Rylance-Watson, ‘Scarborough c.1825 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-scarborough-r1148282, accessed 25 May 2024.