JMW Turner | The Storm Shipwreck

British, 1775–1851

The Storm (or Shipwreck)

Watercolour and bodycolour on a three-ply London or Bristol board
4 x 7 inches (125 x 189 mm)

“This remarkable watercolour,” writes Andrew Wilton in a letter of authentication dated 15 February, 2011, “is a replica on a much reduced scale of the large subject measuring 17¾ x 25 inches (434 x 632 mm) that Turner executed for the engraver-publishers William Bernard and George Cooke in about 1823," and is now in the collection of the British Museum.  “Given the success with which [the present] drawing achieves a whole gamut of storm effects without a hint of insecurity or falsification,” Mr. Wilton continues, “the conclusion must be that, despite the absence of parallels in Turner’s working practice, this is an authentic work by him, probably made for the benefit of an engraver intending to reproduce the large Storm as a small-scale plate.  He may well have felt that the process of reduction could not be left to anyone else: too much intricate and atmospheric detail needed to be translated.  Whether one of the Cookes intended to tackle it himself as a line-engraving, or they planned to give it to Lupton for mezzotinting, we shall perhaps never know.”

Andrew Wilton examined the present watercolour alongside the British Museum work and provided a letter of authentication, excerpted above.  Mr. Wilton was formerly Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum; and subsequently Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art; then Curator of the Turner Collection in the Clore Gallery, Tate Britain; and is now Chairman of The Turner Society. 

David Blayney Brown, Curator of the Turner Collection at Tate Britain, examined the present watercolour on 8 July, 2011 and confirmed Andrew Wilton’s opinion that it is by Turner.

Peter Bower, a pre-eminent Turner conservator and author of two books on Turner’s papers, examined this watercolour in November 2012 and provided a condition report in which he concludes that “there is nothing in the materials used or in the handling of the watercolour to suggest that anyone other than Turner was responsible for this work.”

Eric Shanes, whose book, Young Mr. Turner: the First Forty Years, 1775-1815, was published in 2016 by Yale University Press on behalf of the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, also examined the present work alongside the British Museum picture and confirmed that this is an autograph work by Turner.  The late Mr. Shanes described the related British Museum work The Storm (or Shipwreck), which was exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857, as “undoubtedly the most ferocious seascape Turner ever created in watercolour” (Shanes, 2008, p. 158).  He wrote of the present smaller replica that "everywhere one looks, the confidence and vigour of the brushwork, and the detailing and quality of the drawing (especially in the incredibly fine lines of the ship's rigging) ... proclaim that the work emanated entirely from Turner's hand."

For information, and an illustration, of the related British Museum picture, please refer to the museum’s website link below:

Private Collection, Sussex, 2010
Private Collection, Cambridgeshire, acquired from the above
cf. Andrew Wilton, Turner in the British Museum: Drawings and Watercolours, London, 1975, p. 62, no. 87, for illustration of the large watercolour The Storm in the collection of the British Museum
cf. Eric Shanes, Turner’s England: A Survey in Watercolors, London, 1990, p. 126, for illustration of the British Museum picture; also illustrated on the back cover
cf. Eric Shanes, Turner: The Great Watercolours (exhibition catalogue), London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2000-01, p. 24, fig. 9, for illustration of the British Museum picture
cf. Eric Shanes, The Life and Masterworks of J.M.W. Turner, New York, 2008, pp. 158-9, for illustration of the British Museum picture; also illustrated on the front cover