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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner St Michael's Mount c.1823-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
St Michael’s Mount circa 1823–6
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 311
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 241 x 303 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Moon [?‘Less’ or ‘Lits’]’ bottom centre
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 311’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
(see main catalogue text)
St Michael’s Mount, off Marazion and across Mount’s Bay from Penzance in Cornwall, is not evident in the present watercolour, and the title is by association with the ‘Little Liber’ mezzotint described below, which directly follows its cloud, wave and moon forms. Rawlinson appears to have recognised the watercolour as the preliminary design (‘The Drawing is in the National Gallery. The Mount does not appear in it.’),1 although later commentators lost track of the connection2 until Ian Warrell re-established it.3
Pencil sketches of the Mount made on Turner’s 1811 tour of the West Country are in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08715; Turner Bequest CXXIII 190a) and the Ivy Bridge to Penzance sketchbook (between Tate D08910 and D08937; Turner Bequest CXXV 31, 46), with distant views across Mount’s Bay in the Cornwall and Devon sketchbook (Tate D41281–D41283, D41285–D41290, D41367, D41369; Turner Bequest CXXV a 6–8, 10–15, 85, 87). A watercolour of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall of about 1812 (private collection)4 was engraved in 1814 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England. An oil of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London),5 and Mount St. Michael, Cornwall, a watercolour of about 1836 (University of Liverpool)6 was engraved in 1838 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales.
There are two loose, atmospheric ‘colour beginnings’ of the Mount at sunset, made in about 1828 (Tate D25187, D25514; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 65, 390); they are much brighter in their effect and not directly related to the present composition. Ian Warrell has seen the present design, showing the setting sun and the moon in close proximity, as an intimation of later compositions such as Turner’s oil The Fighting ‘Temeraire’,7 exhibited in 1839 (National Gallery, London).8
The composition was engraved in mezzotint,9 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). The ‘completely corroded’ steel plate was found in his studio after his death;10 according to Dupret it was sold in 1873,11 although it is unclear whether it is listed in the 24 March 1873 Christie’s sale of prints from Turner’s studio (see the Introduction). The development of the design is described by Rawlinson and Dupret.12 There seems to have been only one trial proof stage, with the Mount added in pencil on the left of one impression (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), with further touches in white to the sea and sky. There is no impression in the Tate collection.
As discussed in the introduction, this ‘Little Liber’ subject is possibly the one noted as ‘Moonlight’ among others listed inside the front cover of Turner’s Worcester and Shrewsbury sketchbook, in use in 1831 (Tate D41053; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX).
Sunset (Tate D25428; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 305), a watercolour study, has been tentatively related to this composition by Eric Shanes;13 there are loose similarities in composition, colour and mood, but these may be fortuitous, so D25428 has not been catalogued in the present ‘Little Liber’ section.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387; Marcel-Etienne Dupret, ‘Turner’s Little Liber, Turner Studies, vol.9, no.1, Summer 1989, p.38, describes the study mentioned by Rawlinson as ‘untraced’.
See Wilton 1975, p.62.
See Warrell 1991, p.39.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.350 no.445, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.207 no.358, pl.361 (colour).
Wilton 1979, p.403 no.880, reproduced.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.229–31 no.377, pl.381 (colour).
See Warrell 2004, p.83; see also Warrell 1991, p.39.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cx, and vol.II 1913, pp.210, 386 no.802.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387.
See Dupret 1989, p.38.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.387; Dupret 1989, p.38.
Shanes 1997, pp.98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’, as ‘Sky sketch, possibly related to [CCLXIII] 311’, 101 under ‘Sea Sketches and Studies’, 102 under ‘Sky Sketches’.
Technical notes:
The crescent moon was reserved. Much of the colour elsewhere was worked wet in wet, with the waves being particularly fluid. They peter out towards the bottom of the sheet, which is left bare. There are rough, wavy pencil lines emphasising the waves towards the bottom left.
Blank, save for inscriptions in pencil ‘B’ top right, ‘573 B’ centre, and ‘CCLXIII – 311’ bottom centre; marked in brown ink with a cross centre right.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘St Michael’s Mount c.1823–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2011, 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-st-michaels-mount-r1133278, accessed 23 May 2024.