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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ships in a Breeze ('The Egremont Sea Piece') circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ships in a Breeze (‘The Egremont Sea Piece’) circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI M
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 184 x 262 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
Turner used his oil painting Ships Bearing Up for Anchorage, no.227 in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1802 (Tate T03868; displayed at Petworth House, West Sussex),1 as the basis of the present design for the Liber Studiorum; as indicated in the lettering of the subsequent engraving, the painting belonged by then to Lord Egremont (one of Turner’s greatest patrons), who may have bought it directly from the exhibition and certainly owned it by 1805.2 Other Liber studies (Tate D08168, D08185; Turner Bequest CXVIII e, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII N) relate to Turner’s paintings in Egremont’s collection; as do the unpublished prints Narcissus and Echo,3 for which no drawing is known, and (at one remove, from Turner’s painting based on Egremont’s Claude) Apullia in Search of Appullus4 (see introduction to section of drawings for unpublished Liber designs).
Since there is no record of Turner visiting Petworth between 1805 and the publication of the print, he probably worked from memory, and from his original sketches for the whole composition and individual ships in the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate D04966–D04969, D04974, D04975, D04990, D04991, D05014, D05015, D05017; Turner Bequest LXXXI 64–65, 66–67, 72–73, 88–89, 112–113, 115). He significantly rearranged the vessels in a tighter, more dramatic composition, effectively bringing them from the background to the middle distance by cropping the painting’s wide expanses of sky and sea. In the drawing, a new ship, sailing away on the left, closely echoes the one on the far right, though Turner reduced its scale in the print to give more room for manoeuvre beyond the central, anchored vessel. He introduced even more forceful lighting, with slanting sunbeams at right angles to the rolling masts framing the group.5 A similar, if less conspicuous, focusing process can be seen in his design for Norham Castle on the Tweed (Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D).
The published plate was untitled, though lettered ‘In the possession of the Earl of Egremont.’; the present title is the customary one, as given by Rawlinson in 1878.6 The composition is recorded, as ‘2[:] 4 Lord Egremont’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)7 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.8 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘10 Egremonts’, 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 Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers in part 2 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.7–11;10 see also Tate D08111–D08113, D08115; Turner Bequest CXVI J, K, L, N). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00929) and the published engraving (A00930). It is one of nine published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Marine’ category (see also Tate D08104, D08105, D08125, D08129, D08133, D08138; Turner Bequest CXVI C, D, X, CXVII B, F, K).
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.17 no.18, pl.14 (colour).
Rawlinson 1878, p.168 no.90; 1906, pp.195 no.90; Finberg 1924, pp.359–61 no.90.
Ibid. 1878, pp.144–5 no.72; 1906, pp.169–70 no.72; 1924, pp.287–90 no.72.
Brooke 1885, pp.37–8; see also Spencer-Longhurst 2003, p.46.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.26–7 no.10.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg 1924, pp.25–44.
Technical Notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘J Whatman | 1801’.1 There are glossy spills of a dried liquid over the left third of the sheet, which caused the watercolour to run, and so apparently happened quite early in the sheet’s history. Pencil drawing is evident in the ships and spars. The paper was not washed initially; washes were applied with reserves left, followed by brushwork and scratching-out. Scratching- and washing-out were used for the lights of the sea. The overall cool brown colour comprises umber, sepia, and Indian red shades.2
Forrester 1996, p.57 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘502’ centre right, and ‘4’ [circled] bottom centre
There are isolated specks and spatterings, possibly of ink.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Ships in a Breeze (‘The Egremont Sea Piece’) c.1806–7 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-ships-in-a-breeze-the-egremont-sea-piece-r1131716, accessed 21 June 2024.