During the 1830s and '40s Turner made use of small sheets of grey paper for some of his most impressionistic sketches. In these he floated vibrant color on the warm ground to create images of the wide open spaces of Venice, or panoramic views over the rivers of Germany. The sheets generally measured around 5 ½ x 7 ½ in., but were folded and torn from much larger pieces of paper (see P. Bower, Turner’s Later Papers. A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820-1851, London 1999, pp. 105-10). He also utilized the pocket-sized grey sheets, as in this instance, to recreate his observations of the shore near his lodgings at Margate. In addition to watercolor, he built up the images by applying chalks, most strikingly as white highlights that suggest both the foaming waves near the shore and the fall of light on distant buildings. Simultaneously, the intermingled contrast of the lighter tone with the colors used for the figures creates a dynamic sense of blurred animation.
Turner’s regular visits to Margate in his later years are now well-known, but his presence there, combined with his liaison with his landlady, Sophia Caroline Booth, proved to be a scandalous embarrassment in the years after his death in the high Victorian era. Although works depicting Margate can be found in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain, most of those in other collections can almost certainly be traced back to Mrs. Booth or her son Daniel John Pound.
Comparable examples of Margate subjects painted on the same grey paper can be found at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see Wilton, op. cit., p. 407, no. 916, where listed as ‘Cricket on the Goodwin Sands’), the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and a private collection (ibid., no. 926). Two further related works were included in the album formerly belonging to Laurence W. Hodson (1864-1933), a friend of William Morris and an important supporter of the Kelmscott Press (Sotheby’s, 30 November 1978, lot 97). The album was actually an assemblage of pages from at least two sketchbooks mixed up with subjects recorded in and around Margate on blue, buff and grey sheets of paper. Of the two scenes painted on grey, one was titled ‘Harvesters’, while another depicted the cliffs just to the east of Turner’s lodgings.
The early history of the present sheet is not fully documented, but it may have come from a similar miscellaneous batch of Margate sketches because it was sold to Agnew's in 1971 along with a view on blue paper of the wooden jetty for steamboat passengers, known as Jarvis’s Landing Place (Waves breaking on a beach, Morgan Library, New York; ibid., no. 918). Turner’s typically summary way of rendering in that work the structure at the end of the pier is also repeated here as a distinctive vertical line.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.