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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?Study for 'A Ship Aground' c.1827-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
?Study for ‘A Ship Aground’ c.1827–8
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 204
Watercolour on white wove paper, 245 x 216 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom centre
Inscribed in red ink ‘204’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 204’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This ‘colour beginning’ is unusual in its vertical format. Gerald Wilkinson has noted its ‘Untypical proportions and a most untypical decorative treatment. ... Although the treatment is mannered, it must be admitted that the sea and sky are very convincing.’1 Eric Shanes has suggested a connection2 with the oil A Ship Aground of about 1827–8 (Tate N02065),3 which was painted in an unusually wide double-square format as a near-complete ‘sample study’ for Turner’s decorative scheme in Lord Egremont’s panelled dining room at Petworth House, Sussex.4 The composition was not developed for that setting, but informed the more conventionally proportioned painting Fort Vimieux, exhibited in 1831 (private collection).5
The blotchy ochre area above the waves on the left may suggest cliffs, which do not feature in A Ship Aground. Any resemblance or thematic similarity may be fortuitous, given the frequency of marine subjects in Turner’s work. Compare for example a slight but evocative shipwreck study perhaps connected with the mid-1820s ‘Little Liber’ (Tate D25339; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 217). Turner continued to respond to the poignant anonymity of a distant ship at the mercy of the sea; a sheet perhaps dating from the late 1840s is inscribed ‘Lost to all hope she lies | each sea breaks over a derelict | on an unknown shore’ (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).6
Wilkinson 1975, p.123.
See Shanes 1997, pp.30, 100.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.167 no.287, pl.289 (colour).
See ibid., pp.164–9.
Ibid., pp.192–3 no.341, pl.343.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, London 1979, p.471 no.1425, pl.239.
Technical note:
There is a presumably adventitious stroke of dark blue over the waves towards the bottom left.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?Study for ‘A Ship Aground’ c.1827–8 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-study-for-a-ship-aground-r1184436, accessed 26 May 2024.