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Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851)

'Off Yarmouth': A Steamship off the Coast in Rough Weather

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851)
'Off Yarmouth': A Steamship off the Coast in Rough Weather
watercolour and bodycolour, on blue paper
5½ x 7½ in. (14 x 19 cm.)
J.E. Taylor; Christie's, London, 5 and 8 July 1912, 2nd day, lot 131 as 'A Sea-piece' (155 gns. to Agnew's).
E.R. Debenham.
with Agnew's, 1929.
Frank C. Parker.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 18 March 1971, lot 77.
with Agnew's, London.
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 469, no. 1410.
London, Agnew's, 100th Annual Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings, January-February 1973, no. 87, illustrated as circa 1835.
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Lot Essay

Wilton groups this work with a number of others associated with Yarmouth, dating them tentatively to about 1840 (op. cit., pp. 468-9, nos. 1405-9, all illustrated). However, it is particularly close to A Boat and Red Buoy in a Rough Sea in the Hickman Bacon collection (Wilton, op. cit., p. 407, no. 914, illustrated; E. Shanes, The Golden Age of Watercolours: The Hickman Bacon Collection, exhibition catalogue, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, September 2001-January 2002, p. 37, no. 16, illustrated); this is part of a series of watercolours of much the same size on blue-grey paper, Wilton nos. 914-17, dated by Wilton to 1828-30 and Shanes to 1830.

Turner is not known certainly to have visited Yarmouth later than 1824, but later visits are not unlikely. Wilton also relates this group to Turner's Venetian watercolours of 1840 but admits that his dating is conjectural. Turner's use of relatively rough, coloured papers, often with bodycolour, began with the French River and Petworth series of the late 1820s and continued throughout the 1830s.

The present watercolour depicts a steam ship making its way through the churning waters of the Solent off Yarmouth on the western side of the Isle of Wight. Turner has captured the crashing waves and dramatic sky through a series of rapidly executed brushstrokes. Atmospheric effects associated with light and water were a source of fascination to Turner throughout his career and inspired some of his most spirited and impressionistic drawings.

The blue grey paper on which the present drawing was executed was made by George Steart at De Montalt Mill, Coombe Down, Bath. The blend of fibres seen in this sheet is two different blue linen rags, white linen rag and a very small proportion of unbleached hemp.

Turner produced some of his most stunning works on the papers made by George Steart: the various series, such as the Petworth interiors and landscapes, the Loire, Seine, Meuse and Moselle series are all executed on batches of Steart's flecked blue wove papers. Turner's preference when working on Steart's flecked blue wove papers was to work on 1/16th Imperial sheets, giving approximate sheet sizes similar to this work.
Turner used many different batches of Steart's flecked blue paper. They are found with the following watermarks: 1823 (three batches), 1827 (two batches), 1828 (three batches) and 1829 (three batches). The fibre detail, surface finish and weight suggest this is the lighter of the three 1829 batches.

This is the only Yarmouth subject so far identified that has been executed on Steart's flecked blue wove paper: the Yarmouth subjects identified by Wilton and dated c.1840 (Wilton 1405-1409) are all executed on very different papers and larger sheets, much larger than seen in this work.

At one time the watercolour was in the collection of John Edward Taylor, the son of the founder of The Manchester Guardian, and later its sole proprietor. A pre-eminent collector of Turner watercolours, he began buying from Agnew's in the 1860s and owned masterpieces by the artist including The Blue Rigi (sold in these Rooms, July 2006, £5,832,000). He gave a large number of works from his collection to public institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the Whitworth Institute, Manchester.

We are grateful to Martin Butlin and Peter Bower for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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