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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Mewstone c.1823-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Mewstone circa 1823–6
Turner Bequest CXCVI F
Watercolour on white wove paper, 244 x 381 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1810’
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXCVI – F’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
(see main catalogue text)
The Mewstone, Mew Stone or Great Mew Stone stands in Wembury Bay, Devon, on the south-eastern approach to Plymouth Sound. Turner sketched it from land and sea in the Plymouth, Hamoaze sketchbook (Tate D09275–7, D09279, D09448, D09450, D09452, D09454, D09458, D09460, D09462; Turner Bequest CXXXI 53, 54, 55, 57, 172a, 173a, 174a, 175a, 177a, 178a, 179a) on his visit to Devon in 1813. A watercolour of about 1814 (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin),1 showing the rock in stormy seas, was engraved in 1816 as The Mew Stone, at the Entrance of Plymouth Sound, Devonshire for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (Tate impressions: T04383–T04385, T05392, T05393, T05970). A vigorous watercolour traditionally known as Storm off Margate (private collection)2 has been identified as another view.3
The present design has been described as a ‘modification’ of the Southern Coast composition, ‘specifically related’4 to the corresponding ‘Little Liber’ mezzotint. Alternatively, it has been treated by Finberg and others as a ‘colour beginning’ for the Dublin watercolour – that is, as a preparatory study rather than a development from it.5 Although the sheet is watermarked 1810, such loose ‘colour beginnings’ for completed watercolours tend to be associated with a rather later phase of Turner’s development, and stylistically the work seems compatible with the other ‘Little Liber’ studies gathered together in the present catalogue and dated by general consensus to the middle of the 1820s.
The composition was engraved in mezzotint,6 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). There is no indication in the standard sources as to whether the copper or steel plate was one of those found in his studio after his death (again, see the Introduction), and there is only one proof impression known (British Museum, London); it is described by Rawlinson, who rather vaguely mentions ‘several sketches in the National Gallery’, while Dupret notes that the present watercolour is ‘particularly close to the print’.7
Gillian Forrester has compared the subject and technique of the late, unpublished Liber Studiorum design Moonlight on the Medway (Tate D25451; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328; see catalogue entry for full details) which she dates to about 1824, with this and other ‘Little Liber’ designs.8
Wilton 1979, p.351 no.454, reproduced.
Ibid., p.389 no.768, reproduced.
At the time of its being offered at auction at Christie’s, London, 4 June 2008 (26).
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.95; see also Wilton 1979, p.390.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.599; Wilkinson 1974, p.136; and Dawson 1988, pp.69, 70.
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, 388 no.804.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.388; Dupret 1989, p.41.
See Forrester 1996, pp.21, 146; see also Michael Spender and Malcolm Fry, Turner at the Bankside Gallery: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Drawings & Water-colours of British River Scenes from the British Museum, exhibition catalogue, Bankside Gallery, London 1980, p.96.
Technical notes:
The edges are all slightly irregular, with top edge cut freehand. The paint is thickly worked, and Andrew Wilton has suggested the unconfirmed presence of ‘some body-colour’.1
Wilton 1979, p.389.
Blank save for various adventitious splashes of watercolour. The corners are abraded from having previously been glued down.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Mewstone 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-the-mewstone-r1133280, accessed 23 May 2024.