Off Margate, 1840
As a “painter of light and atmosphere”, William Turner became an artistic hero of the Romantic period, who was emulated by an infinite number of artists. In this sketchy drawing from 1840, Turner‘s reduction to the most sparing means of expression can be viv idly understood. With seemingly abstract, virtuosically inter-twined pencil strokes, Turner captures the elegant lines of a boat, uses white chalk to set the sparkling sunlight on the surf, and hints at a stretch of coastline with a higher building in the distance. In doing so, he relies on our imagination to read the grainy blue-grey paper support as a zone of water or sky and the strokes of chalk as a horizon line.
In 2020, art historian Ian Warrell succeeded in identifying the subject. Turner is looking north-west across Kingsgate Bay towards Kingsgate Castle in the far distance, capturing an incident he observed in Margate, Kent, on 22 November 1840: two East Indiamen – depicted here as either the “Claudine” or the “Westminster” – were deliberately grounded on the sands east of Margate at the time to prevent them from losing their cargo in a storm. Their cargo was subsequently recovered on the shore and the damage to the ships re- paired. Familiar with Margate since childhood, Turner visited the seaside town regularly from 1837, staying at the home of Sophia Booth, whose house overlooked the pier. She was his companion until Turner‘s death in 1851 and the first owner of this drawing.