For at least three years in the mid-1790s Turner spent many of his evenings copying drawings by other artists belonging to Dr Thomas Monro at his home at 8 Adelphi Terrace. Our understanding of the importance of this activity in Turner’s development has recently been enriched by Eric Shanes’s new account of the skillful deployment of nuanced tones that made Turner’s early watercolours so distinctive (see Young Mr Turner. The First Forty Years: 1775-1815, 2016, chapter 6).
At Dr Monro’s Turner often collaborated with Thomas Girtin, and together they famously took the Swiss and Italian subjects of John Robert Cozens as the starting point for their own versions. But in addition to Cozens, they copied images of Dover by John Henderson, another collector, who lived a few doors away on Adelphi Terrace. Not all of the ‘Monro School’ views of Dover relate to prototypes by Henderson, because Turner had visited the great harbour in 1793, where he was drawn to the ramshackle and picturesque qualities of the wooden buildings lining the wharfs.
It has been suggested that the location depicted in this watercolour may be St Margaret’s at Cliffe, just along the coast to the east of Dover, where the headland is remarkably similar to that here. However the areas of water in the foreground imply the channels of a harbour. Furthermore, the buildings can perhaps be glimpsed in the far distance of Turner’s watercolour Dover, Pier and Castle after Henderson (British Museum).
We are grateful to Eric Shanes and Ian Warrell for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.