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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Marine Dabblers Sketchbook c.1829–30

Turner Bequest CCXLI 1–80a
Sketchbook bound in boards, half-bound in grey marbled paper over red leather spine and corners tooled at the borders with running gilt leaf and ring motifs; gilt scroll motifs on the spine
80 leaves and pastedowns of various white, mauve, pink, blue, pale blue and green wove papers edged in gold; white paper with part watermark ‘et & Co | 27’; page size 113 x 89 mm
Inscribed ‘ALBUM’ in gilt letters on gilt-bordered red leather label at centre of front cover
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram below centre of label on front cover
Stamped in black ‘CCXLI’ top centre of front cover
Numbered 196 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854 and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest inside front cover (D41105)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This sketchbook includes harbour scenes and observations of people at leisure and at work by the sea, although there are also scenes of shipping on the River Thames in London, as well as separate studies of shipping. It seems to have been given its rather arbitrary title in Finberg’s 1909 Turner Bequest Inventory,1 based on the cramped pencil inscription on folio 46 verso (D22514). Gerald Wilkinson has characterised the book as ‘a small autograph album with pages of different pastel tints, such as can be bought today at a stationer’s – but not perhaps bound in leather with gold blocking.’2 Turner does not seem to have attempted to exploit the coloured papers in any particular way, except in the case of the gouache nude figure on folio 51 verso (D22520); see also the potentially erotic pencil sketch on folio 79 verso (D22554). Much of the book has been left blank, with somewhat miscellaneous subjects scattered through it which have not been associated with a wider tour.
Ian Warrell has described one aspect of Marine Dabblers as ‘documenting one of Turner’s visits to Margate’,3 at the north-eastern tip of the Kent coast, in about 1830; Finberg had correctly but tentatively identified the sketches on folios 75 recto and 78 recto (D22548, D22552) as showing the town. He assigned the book to about 1829–30 without further comment, presumably on stylistic grounds but informed partly by a brief note which refers to 28 September 1830 on folio 38 verso (D22505). Turner may possibly have been on his tour of the Midlands on that day (see the Introduction to the ‘Midlands 1830’ section of this catalogue), but at any event it seems likely that the book was in use in or around that year, another clue being the views of Margate’s Holy Trinity Church, consecrated in 1829, on D22548 and D22552.
Turner had known Margate as a boy, and drew there many times, recorded the harbour in the Wilson sketchbook of 1796–7 (Tate D01199–D01200; Turner Bequest XXXVII 82, 83). The watercolour Margate from the Sea, Whiting Fishing of 1822 (private collection),4 was engraved in 1825 as Sun-Rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate for Turner’s Marine Views (Tate impression: T06655). Another of about 1822 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)5 was engraved in 1824 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast (Tate impressions: T04406 and others). A watercolour of about 1825 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)6 was engraved in 1828 for the Ports of England, but not published until the 1856 Harbours of England, and yet another, of about 1830 (Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry),7 was engraved in 1832 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04590–T04592, T06098). The town is shown in paintings, drawings and watercolours into the 1840s; the painting The New Moon; or, ‘I’ve lost My Boat, You shan’t have Your Hoop’, exhibited 1840 (Tate N00526)8 shows children on the beach. By the early 1830s he was a regular recreational visitor, and stayed at Mrs Sophia Booth’s lodging house overlooking the sea (on the site of the Turner Contemporary gallery); after her husband’s death in 1833 she became Turner’s companion in his later years.9
The resort could be reached in under eight hours by steamer down the Thames Eastuary from London, landing either at the Stone Pier, which survives, or Jarvis’s Landing Place, a wooden jetty running out into the sea near Mrs Booth’s.10 A steamer appears on folio 53 verso (D22523), and there seems to be another on folio 54 verso (D22525); these were perhaps observed off Margate. Other coastal scenes, several with shipping and tiny studies of groups of figures, seem likely to have been noted in and around the town: see folios 2 verso, 38 verso, 39 recto, 46 verso with its ‘Marine Dabbler’, 52 recto, 54 recto, 56 recto, 77 verso (D22466, D22505, D22506, D22514, D22521, D22524, D22529, D22551). There are also studies of shipping in isolation inside the front and back covers (D41105, D41106), and on folios 37 recto, 59 recto and 80 verso (D22503, D22532, D22556) These again might relate to Margate, or to London, where shipping on the Thames below London Bridge was swiftly sketched on folios 55 recto and verso and 56 recto (D22526–D22528), perhaps at the beginning or end of a Margate trip.
There are also unidentified inland landscapes, with woods and rivers. They are typical of Turner’s work in the South of England, but they are rather slight, and remain unidentified: see inside the front cover (D41105), and folios 1 verso, 2 recto, 3 verso, 4 recto, 53 verso, 56 verso, 57 recto and 79 recto (D22464, D22465, D22468, D22469, D22523, D22529, D22530, D22553). Finally, there is a study of a figure in armour, perhaps from a picture, on folio 1 recto (D22463), and notes concerning a legal issue appear inside the back cover (D41106).
Finberg 1909, II, p.741.
Wilkinson 1975, p.50.
Warrell 2003, p.23; see also Bailey 1997, p.279.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.358 no.507.
Ibid., p.353 no.470, reproduced.
Ibid., pp.387–8 no.757, reproduced.
Ibid., p.398 no.839, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984,p.238 no.386, pl.389 (colour).
See Jean Golt, ‘Booth, Sophia Caroline’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.28–9.
See James Hamilton, Turner; A Life, London 1997, pp.244–5.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Marine Dabblers Sketchbook c.1829–30’, sketchbook, May 2014, 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/marine-dabblers-sketchbook-r1148353, accessed 26 May 2024.