The present watercolour was executed from memory and both Ian Warrell and Peter Bower have confirmed that the sheet once formed part of Turner’s The Devonshire Rivers and Wharfedale No.3 Sketchbook, a volume he used between 1814 and 1816.3 This explains the existence of the pencil sketch of Barden Tower in North Yorkshire and the list of northern locations that appear on the verso of this work.
Turner revisited the subject of the Mewstone on several occasions throughout his career. The Mewstone at the Entrance of Plymouth Sound dates from circa 1814 and shows the island in stormy weather from out to sea.4 That image was engraved in 1816 for George and William Cooke’s project: Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England. There is also a mezzotint, entitled The Mewstone, which dates from circa 1823 and which Turner made for his unpublished Little Liber Studiorum.5 Lastly, at Tate Britain, London there is a ‘colour-beginning’ of the Mewstone that dates from circa 1824.6 Connected to the mezzotint, it too shows the island under leaden skies and besieged by heavy seas.
The present work demonstrates Turner’s mastery of the medium of watercolour and his eye for the dramatic. Applying his colours with the upmost energy and confidence, he goes far beyond simply recording the Mewstone as a topographical landmark. Instead the island finds itself at the centre of a highly charged scene; the sea churns, waves crash and an almighty tempest breaks overhead. On this small sketchbook page Turner reveals the awesome power of nature.
This watercolour has been owned by several distinguished collectors. In the 19th Century it was in the collection of John Ruskin, while in the second half of the 20th century it belonged to Denys Sutton, the highly respected and long-serving editor of the Apollo Magazine.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell, Peter Bower and Eric Shanes for their help in cataloguing this lot.
1. P. Ackroyd, Turner, London 2006, p. 75
2. Tate Britain, (T.B.CXXXI 53, 54, 55, 57, 172a, 173a, 174a, 175a, 177a, 178a, 179a)
3. Tate Britain, (T.B. CXXXIV)
4. National Gallery of Ireland
5. W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, London 1908, no. 804, fig. 3.
6. Tate Britain, (T.B. CXCVI-F)
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