J.M.W. TURNER R.A.
Margate: Cold Harbour Beach, with the Cliff at Fort Point and Jarvis’s Landing Place
Sold to John Ruskin;
Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 15 April 1869, Pictures, Drawings, & Sketches, Chiefly by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., The Property of John Ruskin, Esq., lot 13;
Bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co, Ltd, London;
William Blodgett, New York, from 1869;
By descent to Eleanor Blodgett (his daughter);
Given as birthday present, 1911, to her godson Franklin Delano Roosevelt;
Eleanor (Mrs Franklin Delano) Roosevelt;
Dr A David Gurewitsch, until 1974;
Mrs A David Gurewitsch, until 1978;
with Thos Agnew & Sons, London (Agnew’s accession label no. 42091 and stock no. 6301);
sold November 1978 to Private collection, USA;
New York, The Metropolitan Museum (on loan) 1975-8
London, Agnew 1979, 106th Annual Exhibition, no.151
Hempstead, New York, Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University, British Watercolours and Drawings 1750-1910, 1980, no.76,
Pennsylvania State University Museum of Art, University Park, March 2 – May 24 1981; Colorado, Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, October 10 – November 22 1981: Selections from the Collection of Mimi and Sanford Feld, no.47
Francis Russell, ‘Turner in his Perfect Time’, The Antique Collector, May 1975, p.46, repr. pl.1
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.355, no.489, as ‘Margate Pier, early 1820s’, illus.
This watercolour of Margate is surprisingly little known despite the significance of its viewpoint and its fascinating and distinguished history, which links it with the early years of the Metropolitan Museum and an American President. It was included in Andrew Wilton's 1979 catalogue of works by Turner (W 485). However, it is reproduced there simply as a small black and white illustration, which inevitably gives no idea of the subtle modulations of colour that characterise it, such as the dashes of blue that indicate shadows below the crashing waves. Frustratingly, it was not possible to locate a better reproduction when I was tracking down images for Turner World Wide, the listing on the Tate's website of the Turner paintings and watercolours outside its own collection, which was launched in 2003. Another factor that has contributed to the Margate watercolour's obscurity hitherto is that it has not been exhibited in the UK since it was included in Agnew's annual show in 1979; following which it has received no further attention on this side of the Atlantic. So its recent re-emergence at last provides the opportunity to discover a work that sheds further light on Turner's important connection with the seaside resort of Margate in the second half of his life.
Although it has not previously been noted, the scene reproduces the view Turner would have had from the windows of the lodgings he frequented in Cold Harbour, just to the east of the stone pier that protects Margate's main harbour. The latter feature is out of sight in this watercolour, off to the left, where its landward end is marked by Droit House (in which harbour tariffs - or 'droits' - were collected). Visible here, however, running across the middle distance, and breaking through the surf at the centre of the image, is the 1,120-foot wooden structure, known as Jarvis's Landing Place, which was completed in July 1824. This seemingly precarious oak construction was built to permit steamboats to unload trippers arriving from London. Soon after these innovative vessels started to ply this route in 1815 it was evident that they could not dock in the main harbour at low tide, where the sandy beach becomes exposed. To overcome this limitation, local boatmen initially ferried the passengers to and from the steamboats. But the members of Margate's Pier and Harbour Company eventually regained their monopoly by approving the construction of the alternative jetty as a more practical solution to deal with the increasing number of boats and visitors. Even so, because the wooden landing place was submerged at high tide, it was not always a pleasant experience for those disembarking onto its slippery wooden surfaces.
Like the stone pier, the wooden jetty was subject to later revisions and decay, mirroring the changing fortunes of the town. Indeed the whole area of Cold Harbour has been much altered since Turner's own time, not least through the erection of Turner Contemporary on what was formerly the foreshore. Nevertheless, the natural geography of the place still indicates the importance of this commanding position in the town, where the gentle curve of Margate bay is closed off by the pier, as the coast turns to the east, simultaneously rising quickly up to the chalky cliffs that run right along to the North Foreland Lighthouse and then round to Broadstairs. In Turner's watercolour, the sudden white mass framing the beach on the right is the cliff on which a fort was constructed to survey and defend the waters approaching the Thames estuary. Steps rising up to the top of the cliff began their ascent from just a couple of yards outside Turner's lodgings.
It was from this viewpoint that Turner watched the quotidian activities of the Margate fishermen, the traders and tourists on the beach and footpath below his window. He also repeatedly studied the ceaseless varieties of light and cloud effects over the sea. These observations led him to praise the skies in this part of Britain as 'the loveliest in Europe', despite his familiarity with those spanning the Bay of Naples to the furthest reaches of the Hebrides in Scotland.
Compelling as all of this was, Turner's regular visits to Margate in the 1830s and 1840s were, of course, also occasioned by his relationship with, and increasing dependency on, Mrs Booth, his seaside landlady. Sophia Caroline Booth (1798-1875), by then already twice widowed, was considerably his junior and eventually assumed some of the practical duties necessary to facilitate his art. In 1847 she moved with him to lodgings in Chelsea, where she nursed him during his last few years.
In its own era, Turner's Margate: Cold Harbour Beach would have constituted a study, or an unfinished work. It was, therefore, not the sort of thing he usually parted with during his lifetime. Much more likely is that that its first documented owner - the writer John Ruskin (1819-1900) - acquired it from Mrs Booth. Despite his own connections to Turner throughout the 1840s, it is evident that Ruskin had then been unaware of her significance to the artist. But in the years after Turner's death, he met her repeatedly, eventually gaining her trust, so that she volunteered valuable information, and offered him the chance to buy some of the watercolour sketches and various personal effects that had been left in her properties.
The precise date at which Ruskin bought Margate: Cold Harbour Beach and other studies connected with the resort is not known, but must have been before March 1861, when he began to make his gifts to the university museums at Oxford and Cambridge, which included works that appear to have come directly from Mrs Booth, notably the studies of fish that Turner brought her to be cooked. For the most part, the items Ruskin presented were either connected with engraved publications or at least fairly resolved. This perhaps explains why he kept for himself the majority of the rudimentary sketches in which Turner recreated economically the scudding clouds and successive tides he witnessed at Margate.
On 15 April 1869, however, when Ruskin decided to sell his most important work by Turner - The Slave Ship (B & J 385; 1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) - the sale also included the majority of the sketches remaining in his collection. One of several contributory factors leading him to part with the latter material may have been the sale at Christie's on 25 March 1865 of a group of oil studies made at Margate (along with various other unfinished late paintings and watercolours), which tested and demonstrated the commercial appeal of working studies. The source of the works in the 1865 sale was not specified in the catalogue, but it appears to have been known informally that the seller was Daniel John Pound, the surviving son of Mrs Booth's first marriage.
Ruskin's name had been inextricably linked with Turner's since the publication, in 1843, of the first volume of his combative defence of the artist, Modern Painters. As well as maintaining his reputation as Turner's champion, over the succeeding two decades he had become one of the most prominent commentators on aesthetics, and had increasingly addressed the social implications and responsibilities of art. These latter concerns undoubtedly contributed to his decision to sell The Slave Ship. The sale of this and 49 other lots (not all by Turner) in 1869 took place at Christie's, and cumulatively amassed 5,648½ guineas. However, the star item - admittedly a subject not everyone would want on their walls - was bought in at only 1,945 guineas, a sum well below the record established for a Turner oil painting two years earlier. By contrast, given that the various groups of watercolour sketches were still unconventional to contemporary taste, many of them attracted impressively strong bids, particularly the Swiss subjects. Just as significantly, the studies made at Margate provided the core of the sale, each benefiting from a short commentary written by Ruskin himself.
In market terms, two of them performed better than the others. Confusingly both were catalogued as 'Margate Pier', but they can be readily identified: Margate: Cold Harbour Beach, as lot 13, sold for 70 guineas to the dealer Colnaghi while lot 14, another view of Jarvis's Landing Place, now in the Courtauld Institute, was bought by 'Vokins', one of a family of dealers, for the slightly smaller sum of 64 guineas. The latter was the first of eleven sketches (in nine lots) painted on toned paper, which Ruskin suggested were formerly a sketchbook. Those warm buff-brown sheets are quite different from the paper used for lot 13, which was painted on a smaller piece of off-white wove paper, inside a ruled pencil outline. Peter Bower has noted that this paper was probably hand made 'by the Muggeridge family, operating as C Ansell & Co. at Carshalton Mill, Surrey'.
After the sale there is a gap in the documentation for both these Margate subjects but, because they next appear in connection with a man called Blodgett, it has previously been assumed that the two dealers who bought them were either acting jointly for him, or that he acquired the works separately from the different agents. What actually happened, however, is more complicated. A letter in the Houghton Library at Harvard provides evidence that both works were actually acquired from the dealers by the American scholar and art enthusiast Charles Eliot Norton (1821-1908), who was at that stage based in Europe and already one of Ruskin's great friends. The Harvard document was written by the aforementioned Blodgett, who replied on 29 June 1869 to a letter from Norton in which the latter had offered him two Turners. In Blodgett's response, he seized the opportunity to acquire them, taking Norton's recommendation as sufficient guarantee for works he had not actually seen:
I have read with much pleasure what you say about the two sketches of Turner's which you have in your possession and feel under many obligations to you for calling my attention to them and giving me the opportunity to become the possessor of them. I shall be glad to have them both as I have nothing of this great master in my collection and as you say these are fine examples of his I shall have great pleasure in giving the admirers of Turner a chance to see them as well as feast upon them myself … P.S. If you send me the sketches be kind enough to write me all your thoughts about them, Ruskins opinion etc.
The altruistic desire to share the Turners more widely, at a time when the artist's works on paper were still scarcely represented in New York (other than in engraved form), provides an insight into the character and interests of Blodgett, whom we have not yet met properly.
William Tilden Blodgett (1823-75) was one of the great self-made men of mid-nineteenth-century New York. His wealth accrued at first from the stake he had in his uncle's company, which produced varnish. Subsequently his assets and position were substantially consolidated through astute investments in real estate, especially in the rapid northwards expansion of Fifth Avenue. In other spheres, he was among the founders of the respected journal The Nation, which was later described as 'a literary force potent for sane thinking in public matters during the sixties and seventies'. Blodgett's success in business was always closely allied with a belief in undertaking charitable works for the public good. During the Civil War, for example, he helped raise $1million at the Sanitary Fair to aid the sick and wounded. Blodgett was also actively involved in the arts and the sciences throughout the 1860s. This was especially so during 1869, when he was a founder member of both the American Museum of Natural History and, shortly afterwards, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like other patriotic collectors of American art, Blodgett generously permitted access to his own painting collection. But the discussions already underway for the creation of the Metropolitan Museum presumably also shaped his thinking when he was considering the acquisition of the two watercolours by Turner.
Following Blodgett's agreement to Norton's offer, the Margate scenes were shipped to him during the summer of 1869. It seems, however, that he was at first surprised by the appearance of his new acquisitions. Seeking clarification and reassurance, he wrote directly to Ruskin. Regrettably, the contents of his letter are unknown, but thankfully, Ruskin's reply has survived. Writing from Denmark Hill on 10 September, he confirmed that the works Blodgett had newly acquired were indeed nos 13 and 14 in the sale of his collection back in April. Addressing Margate: Cold Harbour Beach, he reiterated the catalogue description of it as an 'Unfinished drawing of the finest period'. Curiously he omitted the phrase, 'Exquisite in every respect as far as it is carried', which had followed in the sale catalogue, before continuing: 'I have seen no other example of a drawing by Turner arrested so near completion.' He then amplified the previously published comments as follows:
The 'finest period' I mean is the central one of Turner's life - When he had reached his full power - and was about to err by trying too much to paint pure light. He has evidently got provoked by the higher darkness of the colours under the jetty white cliff, on the right - and so left the drawing and not taken it up again - It only wanted some defining touches and some work in the sky, to have been complete.
After making supplementary remarks about the buff paper study now at the Courtauld, he went on to make a stylistic distinction between the two works, insisting on the unresolved nature of Margate: Cold Harbour Beach and contrasting its purpose with that of its companion, which he characterised as purely a sketch:
No. 13 is as far as I know - a unique example of a drawing by Turner intended to have been completed and left at an advanced stage.
Frustratingly, Ruskin did not expand on his repeated conjecture that this view of Margate beach was intended to assume a more resolved form. Given his assumption that it dates from the 'central' period of Turner's life - presumably the period 1820-35, which he had elsewhere defined as 'That of Mastership' - the implication seems to be that Ruskin believed it was an incomplete design for one of the publishing projects of those years. The dating and likely context in which the image was created will be considered in the second half of this article.
For Blodgett, at least, Ruskin's letter mollified any anxieties he had about the origins of the two Margate subjects. The following year he set sail for Europe on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum. Coincidentally the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian war provided the opportunity to acquire Old Master paintings relatively cheaply, resulting in the subsequent accession of 174 works, primarily by Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century artists, now known as the 'Purchase of 1871'. During his subsequent travels Blodgett played a significant, but (until recently) overlooked role in the acquisition of Turner's Slave Ship by John Taylor Johnston, who was another of the Museum's most important early benefactors. As Nancy Scott has demonstrated, the celebrated picture was actually the first oil by Turner to be publicly exhibited in America, going on display in April 1872 in the gallery of Johnston's Fifth Avenue home. Sadly for New Yorkers, it did not ultimately find a place in the Metropolitan Museum.
Blodgett's Turner watercolours, by contrast, found a temporary home in the newly founded museum, then at no. 128 West 14th Street (a mansion belonging to Mrs Nicholas Cruger). Presumably because Turner's was a celebrated name, these modest works on paper were included in a room that otherwise featured large paintings by contemporary American landscape artists, including a Scene in the Tropics by Frederick Edwin Church, a Coast View by John Frederick Kensett, and the four canvases of Thomas Cole's Voyage of Life series (1839-40, The Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY). Just as striking are the titles given to the watercolours: whereas the one at the Courtauld is easily identifiable as no. 77, 'Pier at Margate, England', its companion (i.e., Margate: Cold Harbour Beach), no. 78, had been re-titled as 'Dorset Coast, England'. The latter might be assumed to have been a different work entirely from the one that is the subject of this article. However, the two exhibits are listed as having been 'Lent by Wm T. Blodgett' and as originating 'From the Collection of John Ruskin', so (in the absence of anything else that relates so precisely) they must therefore be the pair already described. It is intriguing that Blodgett had by this date modified the topographical description for no. 78. Perhaps a friend had convinced him that the cliff on the right resembled somewhere in Dorset?
Just three years after the exhibition, Blodgett died unexpectedly, barely into his fifties. Rather than becoming a part of the Met's collection, the two Margate views remained with his family, and it would not be until 1889 that the museum acquired its first work by Turner - the 1811-12 oil painting of Saltash with the Water Ferry, Cornwall (B & J 121). It would thereafter be a further seventy years before the Francophile taste of the institution was challenged by the acquisition of its only significant example of Turner's work in watercolour: The Lake of Zug (1843; W 1535).
In the meantime the Margate subjects had passed to Blodgett's daughter, Eleanor (1855-1930). Many years later, in 1906, she and her brother (also named William Tilden Blodgett) donated a group of British paintings to the Metropolitan Museum in honour of their father. However it was not until 30 January 1911 that Eleanor parted with the Turners, presenting them as a birthday gift to her godson, the future President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945). By that date he had been married nearly six years to his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, herself the niece of former President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).
Franklin D. Roosevelt was certainly interested in the arts, and added several marine paintings to the family collection. Among the remaining artworks at Hyde Park, his home in upstate New York, is a watercolour still life, dated 1824, which is rather optimistically attributed to Turner. This was perhaps acquired in the 1920s when the dealer John Anderson was promoting his book The Unknown Turner (1926). That volume provided an improbably expanded outline of Turner's life and travels that, even so, struggles to encompass credibly the very diverse range of works illustrated, which are evidently painted by several different amateurs. Although no documentation exists for the purchase of Roosevelt's watercolour, it is similar in feel to some of the works featured by Anderson. While the future President was, therefore, unlucky on that count, the two genuine Turner views of Margate remained with the Roosevelts throughout their marriage and quite probably accompanied them to the White House between 1933 and 1945. At some stage, Franklin formally presented them to his wife - the second Eleanor to own them - and this act of generosity was subsequently coloured with a certain sentimental nostalgia when she recalled it in her 1959 autobiography.
Shortly after the publication of her book she was diagnosed with anaemia, compounded by tuberculosis of her bone marrow, but there was an upside to this depressing and painful outlook in the form of the great friendship she developed during the next couple of years with her doctor, David Gurewitsch (1902-74) and his wife Edna Perkel. Though nearly twenty years his senior, Mrs Roosevelt forged a close bond with Gurewitsch as a friend, travelling companion, and confidant. It was, therefore, a natural manifestation of this affection that led her to pass the two Turners to him. The extraordinarily intimate association between Mrs Roosevelt and Dr Gurewitsch was only revealed in a book by his widow many years after her husband's death, by which point she was the owner of the Turner watercolours. As someone who had herself been involved in the art world, through her work as a dealer in Old Master paintings at the E & A Silberman Galleries, Edna Gurewitsch would have been aware of the increasing value of Turner's pictures in the 1970s. This was especially the case after the huge success of the Royal Academy's bicentenary exhibition in 1974-5. Once she had resolved on selling her pair, like so many other Turner owners before her, she eventually approached Agnew's in London, apparently effecting the transaction on 16 November 1978. After being exhibited by the firm in 1979, Margate: Cold Harbour Beach returned again to the United States, where it remained until 2017.
Throughout this later period the watercolour was known by the slightly inaccurate title under which it appeared in the Ruskin sale: 'Margate Pier'. Just as misleading is the suggestion that it was painted in the 'early 1820s'. Clearly this needs to be reassessed, given the identification of the dark diagonal jetty pressing out to the vertical pole at the centre of the image as Jarvis's Landing Place, which was only fully constructed in the summer of 1824. Furthermore the style and colouring are more consistent with those found in watercolours Turner was producing a decade or more later.
Having repositioned the work in the later 1830s, or early 1840s, we should also reconsider Ruskin's understanding of the status of the watercolour as incomplete, and its possible function, had it been fully resolved. Stylistically, there is little doubt that Turner could have drawn together the elements he represents more formally, especially when compared with contemporary watercolours from either the England and Wales or the late Swiss series. Its sketchy qualities can plausibly be linked to the likelihood that the scene was developed reasonably quickly, either in Margate, from his rooms in Cold Harbour, or as a recollection of the framing motifs he knew there. It was perhaps the deliberate structuring of the scene that led Ruskin to assume it might ultimately have operated as a topographical record that could stand alone as a depiction of Margate, or take its place in a published series.
Bearing these potential ends in mind, it should be possible to identifyother works with some of the same characteristics, particularly in terms of subject matter, paper size, or painting techniques, regardless of their state of finish. Yet in pursuing these lines of enquiry, there are actually very few obvious comparable works among the projects Turner was working on between 1830 and the early 1840s.
The size of the image is instructive here, being effectively double that used for the landscape and uprightvignette illustrations created for Robert Cadell's edition of the works of Sir Walter Scott, which occupied Turner throughout the 1830s. There are, nevertheless, some aspects of the way the Margate watercolour is built up that can usefully be compared with one of Turner's last works relating to Scott. This is the subject known as The Whale on Shore (W 1307; Taft Museum, Cincinnati), which has been convincingly connected with Landscape - Historical Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverley Novels, published around 1836-7 by Fisher and Son (also known as Fisher's Illustrations to the Waverley Novels). As in Margate: Cold Harbour Beach, the foreground is laid in over a yellow ground using red-brown washes in a series of uneven brushstrokes. The sense of perspective in both works is skilfully planned through successive areas of reserved white paper, intended to represent the foamy crests of the incoming waves; in the whaling scene, however, this effect was also subsequently heightened with scratching out. The miniature scale of the Scott design inevitably constrained Turner's opportunity to particularise fully the crowds of figures he included. But his characteristic condensing of the human form is also a feature in the Margate subject, where he defines the figures primarily through their stooping or crouching activities on the beach.
Margate: Cold Harbour Beach has a more obvious kinship with a group of four vignettes in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain, painted on sheets of roughly the same dimensions. A fifth watercolour seems somehow connected, but was painted on a larger piece of paper stuck down on another sheet. Each depicts varieties of fish or crustaceans, arranged appetisingly in the foreground, as though on a fishmonger's slab, and dynamically connected with the lively sea beyond them. In 1854 the first four of these were found, or grouped in a parcel by Turner's executors when sorting his studio contents. The parcel was then labelled, '4 finished vignettes of fish for Mr Bicknell', a strikingly precise identification that was presumably made by George Jones or Charles Eastlake, based on an awareness of either a specific commission or an unresolved project.
Readers of TSN will be aware that Elhanan Bicknell (1788-1861) was one of Turner's important later patrons, who seemingly only became actively interested in the artist's work some time between 1835 and 1838. His money came from his investment in the whaling industry, which induced Turner to exhibit paired canvases on that theme in both 1845 and 1846. By then Bicknell already owned at least ten oil paintings, as well as a significant group of watercolours. However, towards the end of 1845, a disagreement arose between the two men, partly over one of the whaling pictures, but also about an aspect of Turner's pricing policy, which caused a coolness in their relations, if not a complete rupture.
In addition to the vignettes linked with Bicknell, at the Tate, there are a couple more Margate subjects that are potentially related. One is a view of the domed tower of Droit House and the lighthouse on Margate harbour (W 1314; fig. 9), which effectively continues and provides the missing landmarks off the left-hand side of Margate: Cold Harbour Beach. This vibrant vignette has been known since the 1860s as'Venice', but the connection with the colours and manner of the Tate subjects is very easy to apprehend, especially those in the design featuring lobsters, which uses exactly the same red tone as that found in the foreground. The second vignette also focuses on Margate harbour, this time seen from the north-west, looking back to shore with the tower of Holy Trinity church (competed in 1829) in the distance, below the moon (W 1004).
A Margate connection can probably also be discerned in one of the late vignettes that is documented as having been owned by Bicknell (W 1001). This has hitherto been identified as the lighthouses at La Hève, with some caveats about the identity of the nearby ruined building. However, the scene might be more convincingly linked to the fanciful towers and picturesque ruins erected by Charles Fox around his home at Kingsgate Bay, near the North Foreland light. Indeed, the tower of Holy Trinity Church makes a further appearance on the right side of this design, as if glimpsed along the coast in the distance.
The connection with Margate in these three late works is clearly of significance to Margate: Cold Harbour Beach. However, their format as uprightvignettes might at first seem to be at odds with its more straightforward landscape composition. Nevertheless it shares many tones and techniques. For example, in the Tate vignette featuring a wreck buoy, there is the same use of grey wash as a kind of under-drawing, to which bolder colour was added, including the flash of the same bright green, and the more subdued red.
Although perhaps problematic in one sense, the landscape format of Margate: Cold Harbour Beach could indicate that Turner envisaged it serving as a rectangular frontispiece to face a title-page vignette, effectively juxtaposing the kind of image types that had been the norm for the opening pages throughout the Cadell edition of Scott. Of course, this putative pairing of contrasting formats assumes that Turner had in mind a publication of some kind, though there is no readily identifiable contemporary text about Margate or the Thanet coast to which the images might obviously relate. Perhaps an illustrated guidebook was envisaged for visitors from London? This theory also assumes that Bicknell, as the intended recipient of the Tate vignettes, would have been interested in Margate specifically. However, the whaling magnate does not appear to have had any personal connections with the port.
Nevertheless, these fragments of something larger, together with the notion that Bicknell was somehow wrapped up in their origins (and purpose), appear to indicate that the whaling entrepreneur and Turner had developed some kind of plan that remained incomplete. This was evidently a matter of note within the artist's circle, a circumstance with which the Executors were sufficiently familiar to make such an emphatic connection in their labelling of those vignettes that Turner retained in his studio. However, in the absence of any useful, clear documentation from the period in which they were created, all we know for certain is that fruitful relations between artist and patron were interrupted during 1845, and this seems the most likely reason that the watercolours got separated and have subsequently assumed an uncertain status.
Having put the idea of a publication to one side, we must consider the more unusual possibility that the watercolours were intended as a form of interior décor. Accounts of Bicknell's home at Herne Hill describe how works of art, including some by Turner, served a decorative function by being inserted into panels inside gilded mouldings, as seen in the background of the lithographic portrait of Turner by Joseph Hogarth after Alfred, Count D'Orsay. Among these were a group of six vignettes (two batches of three), featuring settings found in Turner's earlier sequence of views on the River Seine. The family's belief in the 1863 posthumous sale catalogue that these items had been devised specifically for Bicknell adds further substance to the notion that the marine vignettes in the Tate very probably did have a connection with him, not least because they are similar in style and size. So could it be that Turner devised the Margate group for a similar purpose?
A detail that is perhaps of significance to this interpretation is the pencil outline surrounding the image of Margate: Cold Harbour Beach. Circumscribing the limits of his images was otherwise not a feature of Turner's working methods, except when he very occasionally attempted to match the size of his designs to the plates on which they were to be engraved. So this is a notable feature that must be connected to the specific function of the watercolour. On a purely practical note, if placed inside a wooden panel, the unpainted border beyond the pencil outline would have permitted the sheet to be secured within a panel frame without loss of any part of the image, while also offering some protection and stability.
It is not surprising that none of the four Tate vignettes associated by the executors with Bicknell has a pencil outline. More interesting is the fifth marine watercolour in the Turner Bequest, which is just a little larger than Margate: Cold Harbour Beach. Rather than having a pencil outline, that subject was mounted on a larger sheet. Here too, the image lacks the precision and detail that would have been requisite in the nineteenth century for a 'finished' work. But the effect, and presumably the function, is remarkably similar, and so both works could represent samples for deciding how the decorative works might work in the Rococo panelling of Bicknell's drawing room. It is pertinent to recall that Turner had previously prepared full-scale drafts of the landscape compositions he was proposing as the crowning contribution to the refurbished Carved Room at Petworth House. These were tried in situ in the late 1820s before the completion and installation of the canvases that still adorn the grandest of Lord Egremont's public rooms.
Intriguing as it is to speculate about Margate: Cold Harbour Beach, the watercolour also exists as an independent work or art, vividly evoking the setting that Turner knew so intimately, as well as recreating the powerful atmospheric effects that repeatedly drew him to this part of the coast. Of course, the purpose of the watercolour may become clearer with further research or new discoveries, but it is unlikely to be as remarkable as the exceptional history of the watercolour in the century and a half since Turner's death. How many of his works have passed through such distinguished collections?
First published in Turner Society News
1. Linked there with the Southern Coast and the Ports of England series.
2. Droit House appears in many of Turner's later views of Margate, but his earliest depictions appear to be those in the Gravesend and Margate sketchbook, recorded just a couple of years after the building was constructed (c.1831, TB CCLXXIX; Tate). One of those catalogued on the Tate website as 'Margate Custom House' (f.41; D27343) in fact shows the Clock House at Ramsgate (now the Maritime Museum).
3. Information drawn from various pages of the invaluable Margate Local History website, written and edited by Anthony Lee.
4. Compare the view by an unknown artist reproduced in Joanna Selborne, Paths to Fame. Turner Watercolours from The Courtauld Gallery, 2008, p. 134, fig. 33.
5. The following sketchbooks all contain relevant material: Gravesend and Margate (TB CCLXXIX; Tate), Fire at Sea (TB CCLXXXII; Tate), Arnheim (TB CCCXXIV; Tate); pages from each of these books appear in Ian Warrell, Turner's Sketchbooks, Tate, London, 2014, pp. 160-1, pp. 180-1, and pp. 212-13. There are also numerous related sketches on loose sheets. For example, see TB CCCXLIV 378; Tate, D34870).
6. See those in the Channel sketchbook (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).
7. John Ruskin, Praeterita, II, Chapter XII, 235 (October 1887) (E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (ed.), The Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition), 1908, vol. XXXV, p. 467).
8. For recent research, see Tim Marshall, 'Mr Turner, Mrs Booth and Mr Booth. New Light on J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and the Booths', British Art Journal, XIX.1, 2018, pp. 35-41.
9. See Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner Fribourg, 1979, p. 468, nos 1339 and 1403, both in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. See Cook and Wedderburn, op. cit., 1904, vol. XIII, pp. 557-60 for the Turner watercolours given to Oxford and Cambridge in 1861. John James Ruskin's Account Book (in the collection of the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University) includes an entry on 15 March 1861 for a payment of the substantial sum of £1,600 for an unspecified number of 'Turner Drawings'. This was significantly more than the £1,050 he had paid three years earlier for seventeen of the fully resolved views of Loire.
10. See Cook and Wedderburn, op. cit, vol. XIII, pp. 569-72.
11. Christie's, London, 25 March 1865. Some of these paintings were the subject of an episode of the BBC's programme Fake or Fortune in 2012. An article by the present author, indentifying the full contents of the sale, awaits publication.
12. See also James Dearden, 'Why did Ruskin sell The Slave Ship?', TSN 92, December 2002, p. 20.
13. On 11 May 1867 Modern Italy - the Pifferari 1838 (Glasgow Art Gallery; B & J 374) had been sold from the collection of H.A.J. Munro for £3,465.
14. Cook and Wedderburn, op. cit., vol. XIII, p. 570. See W 489 and W 1397; Selborne, op. cit.,pp.134-7. The details of which dealer bought which picture are confused in the latter two sources.
15. A suggestion pursued in Edward Yardley, 'A Margate Sketchbook Re-assembled?', Turner Studies, 4.2, winter 1984, pp. 53-5.
16. Letter of 17 May 2017.
17. Partly quoted in Nancy Scott, 'America's First Public Turner: How Ruskin sold The Slave Ship to New York', British Art Journal, 10:3, winter/spring 2009/10, p. 76, fn. 17. I am much obliged to Nancy Scott for going back over her research and generously sharing her transcript of the full text in the Harvard Library (Charles Eliot Norton Papers, MS AM 1088, Houghton Library).
18. For the beginnings of the acquisition and exhibition of Turner's watercolours in America, see Franklin Kelly, 'Turner and America', in Ian Warrell (ed.), J.M.W. Turner, exh. cat., 2007, pp. 237-8.
19. Robert W. De Forest, 'William Tilden Blodgett and the Beginnings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art', The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 1, February 1906, p. 37.
20. Francis Russell, 'Turner in His Perfect Time', Antique Collector, May 1975, p. 46. Russell's article is headed, 'Little is known of William T. Blodgett, an American collector who bought two of Turner's finest watercolours in 1869'; both of these are reproduced in black and white.
21. Cook and Wedderburn, op. cit., vol. XIII, pp. 127, 251. Ruskin's ambiguous terminology seems to have led Andrew Wilton (1979, no. 489) to date the sheet to the 'early 1820s' and link it with the watercolours of either the Southern Coast or Ports of England. Yet, despite dating the watercolour to the 'central period', Ruskin's ensuing comments might better relate to what he called 'The Third Style (1835-45)'.
22. Katharine Baetjer, 'Buying Pictures for New York; The Founding Purchase of 1871', Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 39, 2004.
23. See Scott, op. cit., pp. 69-77.
24. Catalogue of the Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Statuary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No.128 West 14th Street, December 1874. I am grateful once again to Nancy Scott for generously bringing this exhibition to my attention.
25. See Katharine Baetjer, British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2009.
26. A typewritten transcription of the pencil note from Eleanor Blodgett, bearing this date, accompanied the watercolour and reads as follows: 'A happy Birthday dear Franklin and your [sic] will know without the saying that my loving good wishes are with you always. / As a little remembrance I hope you will find a corner for these two little watercolours of Ruskins - which are the more interesting - from the enclosed descriptive letter of Ruskin's - from whom years ago my father purchased them and it is a real pleasure to me dear to pass them on to you. / Affectionately, / Eleanor Blodgett'. Information kindly supplied by Andrew Clayton-Payne.
27. Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library, MO 1972.33. I am grateful to Archivist Virginia Lewick for bringing this to my attention.
28. It has not yet proved possible to locate inventories of the Roosevelts' possessions during their time in the White House.
29. Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own, Harper & Bros, New York, 1958, p. 5.
30. See the online Eleanor Roosevelt papers project, part of the George Washington University, Department of History, Columbian College or Arts & Sciences, Washington.
31. Edna Perkel Gurewitsch, Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch, St Martin's Press, New York, 2002.
32. Agnew's records list only one transaction with Mrs E.P. Gurewitsch on 16 November 1978, as well as the immediate transmission of the 'Margate' subject to the Maycroft Stiftung Fondation. Although the Scharf family certainly bought the Margate subject now at the Courtauld from Agnew's some time after this date, it is not clear from the accessible records precisely when this took place.
33. For the exhibition at Agnew's in 1979 and subsequent showings in America, see list of Exhibitions above.
34. See W 1070-151.
35. Eric Shanes, J.M.W. Turner. The Foundation of Genius, exh. cat., Taft Museum, Cincinnati, 1986, pp. 62-4, no. 54. Shanes's research for this entry was undertaken in collaboration with Professor Robert K. Wallace.
36. TB CCLXIII 342 (D25465); TB CCLXIII 343 (D25466); TB CCLXXX 3 (D27520); TB CCLXXX 4 (D27521). All four are discussed and reproduced in John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: 'A Wonderful Range of Mind', Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, p. 230, and p. 231, fig. 317.
37. TB CCCLXIV 302 (D36159); reproduced recently in colour in TSN 128, autumn 2017, p. 25. The group of four each measure around 15 x 20 cm but this work (22.5 x 18.3 cm) is laid on a sheet that is slightly smaller than a pair of those sheets joined together (25.4 x 20.8 cm).
38. Schedule of Pictures and Drawings mentioned or referred to in an Agreement bearing date 21st June 1854. National Gallery Archives. Parcel 62.
39. See Peter Bicknell and Helen Guiterman, ‘The Turner Collector: Elhanan Bicknell’, Turner Studies, 7.1, summer 1987, pp. 34–44; and Evelyn Joll’s entry in The Oxford Companion to Turner, 2001, pp. 24–5.
40. See B & J 414–15, 423, 426, and the publications accompanying the recent exhibitions about Turner’s whaling pictures at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (2016), and Hull Maritime Museum (2017).
41. W 1314 (‘Venice, ?c.1835-40’). Its title was changed to ‘Margate’ for its listing on Turner World Wide.
42. W 1004 (Lady Lever Collection, Port Sunlight). See Jessica Feather, British Watercolours and Drawings. Lord Leverhulme’s Collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool University Press, 2010, pp. 198–9. This has generally been linked to W 1003 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; D.101.1892). Yet that work is painted on Superfine Drawing Board, a material quite different from the wove paper common to the Margate vignettes. In addition to which, the subject is more plausible as a first attempt at the view of Calais, published in Cadell’s edition of Scott’s Prose (W 1131; see Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed, 1877, vol. opposite p. 112, for a colour reproduction).
43. W 1001 (Lady Lever Collection, Port Sunlight). Reproduced in colour in Ian Warrell, Turner on the Seine, Tate exh. cat., 1999, p. 95. See Feather, op. cit., pp. 202–3.
44. There are many drawings and engravings of the ‘Follies of Kingsgate’. For a general view of the part they played in the landscape, see the engraved View of Kingsgate in the Isle of Thanet by George Walker. Another Turner watercolour that appears to depict the coast at Kingsgate has been catalogued as ‘Off Dover’ (W 485, Lady Lever Collection, Port Sunlight; Feather, op. cit., pp. 189–90).
45. Without taking on board the topographical connections, John Gage proposed that the four Tate vignettes could have been conceived to illustrate a volume about sea-fishing and, in the absence of any other solution, that notion has largely been followed by others (op. cit., pp. 230–1). A little-known publication, issued around 1850 as The Book of the Sea. A Nautical Repository (it also appeared as The Sea Book) with John Cousen’s engraved version of Lighthouses of la Hève as the title-page, may be in some way connected to this group of vignettes (see Warrell, 1999, p. 96, fig. 58). Cousen worked on a number of publications featuring Turner’s vignettes between 1834 and 1840, and would have been a suitable collaborator for a book of the marine subjects.
46. See Warrell, 1999, pp. 87–8.
47. Christopher Rowell, Ian Warrell and David Blayney Brown, Turner at Petworth, 2002, pp. 59–61.