Joseph Mallord William Turner, RA (British, 1775-1851)
Oyster beds at Whitstable, Kent signed 'J M W Turner' (lower left) watercolour 15.7 x 24.3cm (6 3/16 x 9 9/16in).
Painted circa 1824
PROVENANCE: George Fennel Robson (1788-1833) Mrs. George Haldimand, née Prinsep (1784-1861), acquired from the above as part of an album of watercolours, 1826-1828 Sale, Christie's, London, 21st June 1861; The collection of Mrs. Haldimand deceased of Belgrave Square. The choice cabinet of water-colour drawings, pictures, engravings, books, enamels, including the celebrated album of drawings by all the most celebrated painters living in the year 1826. Lot 80, which comprised thirty watercolours including the present work in the third volume of the album, described as 'The celebrated album formed in 1826 under the superintendence of the late Mr Robson the landscape painter including the following drawings in watercolours to be sold in one lot.' with Agnew's, London, purchased from the above for £1500.00 with Vokins Gallery, London, by 1883 Stephenson Clarke (1824-1891), purchased from the above Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke (1862-1948), Borde Hill, Sussex, son of the above Colonel Sir Ralph Stephenson Clarke, KBE (1892-1970), son of the above By descent to his son until 1980 Sale, Christie's London, 18th March 1980, lot 280 with Leger Galleries, London, included in their Exhibition of English Watercolours, 10th November-24th December 1980, no. 22 Private collection UK, acquired from the above
EXHIBITED: London, Vokins Gallery, April 1883 Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery, The Haldimand Collection of English Watercolours lent by Colonel Sir Ralph and Lady Clarke, June-July 1963, no. 82
LITERATURE: The Times, 24th April, 1883, p. 3, with a review of this work when shown at Vokins Gallery Walter Thornbury, The Life of J. M. W. Turner, RA 1977 p. 556 Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 285 W. G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J. M. W. Turner, RA, 1908, vol. I, p. 68, no. 127 A. J. Finberg, Turner's Southern Coast, with a Catalogue of the Engravings, 1929, p. 69, listing and describing the engraving Andrew Wilton, J. M. W. Turner, R.A. His Art and Life, 1979, p. 355, no. 484 Eric Shanes, Turner's Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, 1981, p. 29 and colour plate 47
ENGRAVED: John Horsburgh (1791-1869) for W. B. Cooke's, Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, published by John and Arthur Arch, 1826, vol. I, pl. 1.
The engraving was accompanied by the following description of Whitstable, which read: "This town has little picturesque beauty in itself, being situated in a low marshy soil; but has an agreeable appearance when approached from the sea. It consists principally of one long street thickly inhabited, and another near the church, which is a mile distant from the town. Some attempts have been made to render it a bathing-place; but as the miasma from the marshes counteract the effects of the sea-breeze, it appears unlikely that invalids should be induced to reside there. The town of Whitstable was formerly notorious for smuggling; and it was said of the more wealthy inhabitants, that their riches were gained on the water 'between the lights.' This nefarious trade has been of late nearly annihilated; and the oyster fishery in the neighbourhood, together with extensive copper works, will, it is hoped, provide this populous little town more permanent as well as more respectable support. The people employed in the oyster business are called dredgers, and there are between seventy and eighty vessels in their service. As Whitstable is the port for coals and merchandize sent from London to Canterbury, and corn, hops, &c. are exported hence, it is a lively, busy little place. In addition to the occupations already mentioned, there are salt works, and the remarkable one of fishing for stones used as cement: for this purpose the common dredging-net is used; and the stone thus procured is burnt, pulverized, and then made into a proper consistency for the purpose of cement; above thirty sail of fishing-smacks are employed for this purpose. At Pudding-pan rock, not far from Whitstable, near the mouth of the Thames, great quantities of earthenware have from time to time been cast up, which are believed by antiquaries to be of Roman manufacture, notwithstanding a tradition in the neighbourhood, that a vessel freighted with such ware was cast away at this place. The church at Whitstable is very ancient, and several charitable institutions in the town are supported from sources which bespeak its antiquity; but no circumstance belonging to its annals denotes any great change from its former condition. Whitstable is situated 6 miles N. of Canterbury, and 61 from London: it contains 275 houses, and 1611 inhabitants, including the hamlet of Harwich."
Oyster Beds at Whitstable, Kent not only demonstrates Turner's mastery of his medium, colour and composition but also his unique ability in capturing the moisture of the sea air under dramatic lighting. The scene shows dredgers harvesting oysters in Whitstable Bay beneath the town and windmill bathed in the light of the afternoon sun. In central position two men pull and push a heavily laden horse-drawn cart, whose heavy progress is suggested by the motion of the clouds as a storm passes over Long Rock and Swalecliffe beyond. The eye is taken from the cart into the distance by a weaving line of figures, each depicted with perfect dexterity by a few simple brush strokes; sails caught in the sunlight then continue the line which is mirrored and reinforced by the vertical wooden stakes in the left hand corner. In the other Turner has inscribed the title as if it was a notice to visitors and as a visual pun places it between a pair of baskets and a piece of cloth that seemingly echo the form and lustre of oyster shells.
This exquisite watercolour was commissioned by the engraver, printseller and publisher William Bernard Cooke (1778-1855) for his Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, originally published as a series of engravings between 1814 and 1826. Turner was initially asked to supply twenty four drawings at £7.10 each, which was increased to ten guineas after four issues while the engravers' fee rose from twenty five guineas to £40 a piece. Peter de Wint and other prominent artists were contracted to supply views though it was soon apparent that Turner's were considered superior so he was contracted to supply sixteen more watercolours to total forty, thus contributing the larger proportion of the forty eight plates and thirty eight vignettes.
William Bernard and his brother George Cooke (1781-1834) had originally intended to engrave all the works but time dictated that they had to involve other engravers including William Miller, Edward Goodall as well as John Horsburgh who engraved the present watercolour, the only one in the series by him after Turner. The completed series was eventually bound into two volumes and published in 1826. The illustrations were arranged geographically from east to west, beginning with his view of Whitstable and ending with Watchet in Somerset. The publication of the book received critical acclaim, with some views considered worthy of particular merit. Turner's view of Whitstable was one, causing one critic to note "In the view of Whitstable, engraved by Horsborough [sic], the skilful selection of foreground, the correct perspective, particularly of the figures in size and colour, and the transparency of the water, are what we principally admire" (Gentleman's Magazine, 1827, Volume 141, 1827, p. 343). Much later on, when in 1883 this watercolour was shown to the public for the first time at the Vokins Gallery, it again received significant praise.
The reason why Oyster Beds at Whitstable, Kent had been hidden from public view for nearly sixty years was due to the fact that soon after completion it had been included in an album of watercolours by the landscape watercolourist George Fennel Robson for Mrs. George Haldimand; she had requested 'a representative album of drawings by the best watercolour painters of the day', which he duly assembled between about 1826-28. Robson either commissioned new watercolours, especially from fellow members of the Old Watercolour Society or, as in this instance, acquired finished works direct from the artist. Other notable artists represented in the album included John Constable, John Varley, Copley Fielding, Richard Parkes Bonnington, John Linnell, David Cox, Peter de Wint and Sir Edwin Landseer. The album contained one hundred small sized watercolours (to include the frontispiece) with subjects ranging from landscapes and genre scenes to historical and literary views as well as two still lifes; it was divided into three volumes with the present work housed in the third which comprised a total of thirty watercolours.
Sophia Charlotte Haldimand née Prinsep was the eldest child of John Prinsep, a distinguished Anglo-Indian civil servant. A number of her siblings shared her passion for art, counting among them James, an antiquarian and amateur painter who provided an allegorical frontispiece for the album, Augustus and Amelia Rebecca, both keen watercolourists as well as Henry Thoby who with his wife Sara frequently entertained such figures as Thackeray, Tennyson, Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts at Little Holland House. In 1807 Sophia Prinsep married George Haldimand (1781-1851), a patron and collector of art and as a property developer and financier was part of the syndicate that built Belgrave Square, where the Haldimands had a house at number 31. There Sophia had a rosewood table with an integral drawer for her albums and a rising top for examination. Following her death her three volume album was sold at Christie's. The collection was purchased by Agnew's and subsequently by Vokins of Great Portland Street, who remounted the individual works on the instruction of the new owner Stephenson Clarke of Stephenson Clarke Shipping, Britain's oldest shipping company. Before he took full possession, the collection was shown to the public free of charge at the Vokins Gallery in April 1883, where this watercolour was singled out by one critic who noted "Every one knows what Turner can do, and Copley Fielding, and Peter de Wint; and here are three charming little examples ('Whitstable', 'A Brisk Gale,' 'View near Lincoln') which show these painters almost at their best." (The Times, 24th April, 1883, p. 3). Following Stephenson Clarke's death in 1891 the collection passed down to his son Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke, who created the gardens at Borde Hill and whose other interests included ornithology, travelling and the arts. It was then owned by his son Colonel Sir Ralph Stephenson Clarke, M.P. for East Grinstead and finally the latter's son until the Haldimand Collection was reoffered at Christie's in 1980. At that stage it was dispersed; the Turner along with watercolours by Constable, de Wint, George Petrie and George Barrett were acquired by the Leger Galleries who then sold Turner's masterpiece to a private connoisseur, the present owner.
We are grateful to Alice Munro-Faure for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.