by Thomas Lupton, 1825;
a reduced version also by Lupton was published in 1834;
a chromo-lithograph was published by M. & N. Hanhart, circa 1852-6
Turner has positioned himself off the Kentish coast at Margate, a fishing port and soon-to-be fashionable seaside resort, which he had first visited as a small boy and which he regularly returned to throughout his life. He looks east and directly into a stupendous sunrise, whose magical light gives warmth to everything it touches, before exploding into a myriad of colours on the glass-like surface of the sea.
Despite the early hour, the silence of night has given way to the sounds and activities of day. On the left, far in the distance, a guardship announces the dawn by firing its morning gun, while in the foreground, fishermen have already struck lucky and are excitedly hauling in a plentiful catch. Through the cluster of small vessels, the town itself can be made out. Captain Hooper’s Mill dominates the skyline, while to the right, the pier, the light-house and the entrance to the harbour are all visible.
Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate forms part of a highly regarded group of watercolours that were painted between 1822 and 1824 and that were intended to be engraved and published under the collective title of Marine Views. Turner worked, as he had done earlier in his career, with the publisher William Bernard Cooke, who planned to release the prints onto the market over a number of years. In the event, due to a rift that developed between the two men in 1826, only two mezzotint engravings were, in fact, released: those after the present work and an earlier watercolour entitled The Eddystone Lighthouse (Private Collection).
Nonetheless, before the breakdown in relations, Turner had poured much energy into the scheme and it is thought that he painted five or six major watercolours in connection with it. These are: Dover Castle, 1822 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), A Storm, 1823 (The British Museum, London), Twilight - Smugglers off Folkstone fishing up Smuggled Gin, 1824 (Private Collection), Fish Market, Hastings, 1824 (Hastings Museum of Art) and Folkestone From the Sea (Tate Britain). These works are conceived on the same scale as the present picture, and together, they have been described as - ‘some of [Turner’s] finest marine watercolours.’1
In both 1823 and 1824, Cooke exhibited a number of these works at his newly refurbished picture gallery at 9 Soho Square, London. The 1823 exhibition included three of the watercolours and the placement of the following advertisement in The Literary Gazette not only confirms the presence of Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate but also suggests that it was a great highlight: ‘Exhibition: 9 Soho Square - Two superb drawings by J.M.W. Turner R.A. will be added to this splendid collection on Monday next, May 19th and will be placed in the centre of the rooms. A STORM and A SUN-RISE. These powerful productions, from the pencil of Mr Turner (being just finished), will continue a few weeks only for public inspection…. Open from 10 until dusk, admittance 1s.’
Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate is indeed as ‘powerful’, as it is ambitious and avant-garde. It is Turner’s largest watercolour of Margate and it incorporates all the audacious ingenuity of his mature technique. Furthermore, its grand composition and bold palette demonstrate, once again, his determination that the medium of watercolour could and should be placed on the same pedestal as oil paintings.
The work has a particularly interesting and full provenance. Commissioned by Cooke, it was acquired by Benjamin Godfrey Windus (1790-1867), the carriage-maker and major Turner collector from Tottenham Green in North London. In February 1852, the Gentleman’s Magazine recorded ‘It is at Mr. Windus’s on Tottenham Green that Turner is on his throne. There he may be studied, understood - and admired – not in half-a-dozen or twenty instances, but in scores upon scores of choice examples.’ In 1835, Windus commissioned John Scarlett Davis to paint a watercolour of his library. This work is preserved in the British Museum and provides a fascinating record of how he displayed some of his legendary collection.2 (fig. 1)
By the time of his death, Windus had sold all but one of his Turners, and Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate’s next recorded owner was the prominent financier John Edward Fordham. He lived with his wife Harriet, née Gurney at the Manor House, Melbourn Bury in Cambridgeshire and together they assembled a fine collection of works by the artist, including the superb Lake Nemi (circa 1840), a watercolour that had also belonged to Windus and is now held at the British Museum in London.3
Later, Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate entered the collection of Henry Folland, a Welshman who rose from humble beginnings (he was the son of a steelworker) to run the largest tin-plate company in Europe. One of the great industrialists of his day, he was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire and a generous philanthropist. His wife, Leah Norah, - known as - ‘Lily’ -, was equally remarkable, and in 1939, was awarded a C.B.E. (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by King George VI for her services to the political and public life of South Wales.
Mrs Folland sold Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate at Christie’s in 1945 and it was acquired by the Mitchell Gallery on behalf of the current owner’s father. In 1979, in an extraordinary episode, the picture was stolen and was subsequently purchased by the unsuspecting Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. It remained there until 1993 when a case for its identity as the family's missing work was made by the Turner scholar and chairman of Agnew’s Evelyn Joll (1925-2001). Upon learning of the unfortunate situation Paul Mellon (1907-1999) immediately agreed to return the work to its rightful owners, where it has been a much-loved treasure ever since.
1. E. Shanes, op. cit, p. 12
2. E. Shanes, 'Picture Note', Turner Studies, Winter 1984, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 55-8; see also S. Whittingham,'The Turner Collector, Benjamin Godfrey Windus 1790-1867,' Turner Studies, Winter 1987, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 29-35
3. A. Wilton, op. cit., p. 466, no. 1381
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