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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851, British

The Channel Sketchbook

Additional Title(s):

Study of Clouds

ca. 1845
Graphite and watercolor on medium, slightly textured, white wove paper
Binding (binding height): 4 inches (10.2 cm), Cover: 4 x 6 5/8 inches (10.2 x 16.8 cm), and Sheet: 3 3/4 x 6 1/4 inches (9.5 x 15.9 cm)

Inscribed inside front flyleaf in graphite "[ . . . ]"; inscribed inside back flyleaf in graphite: "Sketch Book of Turners'"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors-Sketchbooks
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
channel (water body component) | marine art | sketchbook | sketches
Associated Places:
Boulogne | English Channel | Europe | Folkestone | France | La Manche | United Kingdom
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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A compulsive draftsman, Turner invariably traveled with a sketchbook. On his death, he left in his studio 290 sketchbooks, which formed a significant part of his bequest to the British nation (now housed at Tate, London). Just five sketchbooks outside of the Turner Bequest are recorded, including this one, which Turner seems to have used in the mid-1840s, when he was living mostly in Chelsea with a widow named Sophia Booth; it apparently remained with Mrs. Booth after his death in 1851. Bound in red leather, and in immaculate condition, the pocket-sized sketchbook, which still bears the label of the London stationer Pillsworth, contains vivid drawings in watercolor and graphite of the sea, shore, and sky, some obviously recording observations made on the spot and others more likely drawn from Turner’s imagination, such as his sketches of whale hunts.

The date and location of the views depicted remain uncertain, but the dates of June 9 and July 24 are inscribed on two of the sketches, and Andrew Wilton (1986, p. 9) has suggested convincingly that Turner may have used the sketchbook along the British coast near Folkestone and possibly at Boulogne in the summer of 1845. Turner, who typically drew with great speed and economy, seems to have worked through the sketchbook in one direction, making watercolor drawings on the right-hand leaves, and then to have turned it upside down, working from back to front. The sketchbook contains a sequence of thirteen graphite drawings, annotated with color notes, which apparently record the progress of a single sunset over the sea. According to John Ruskin, who inventoried the Turner Bequest, this was Turner's “last sketchbook”; it seems unlikely that Turner would have abandoned a lifetime’s habit of drawing out of doors during the last five years of his life, despite his failing health, but if this is indeed the last, it is a compelling testament to the artist’s insatiable curiosity about the world and his penetrating powers of observation (Wilton, 1986, p. 9).

Gillian Forrester

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy: a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 286, no. 94, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 286, no. 94, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

David Blayney Brown, M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2014, pp. 193-194, fig. 55, NJ18.T85 J1552 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Patrick Noon, A Princely Amateur, Paul Mellon and his Collection of British Drawings , Master Drawings, vol. 38, no. 3, Master Drawings Association, Inc., Fall, 2000, p. 240, fig. 2, NC1 M37 (YCBA) Another copy available as item VF 2329

Tony Smibert, Turner's Apprentice : a watercolour class, Thames and Hudson, p. 341, NJ18.T85 S65 2020 Oversize (YCBA)

Sam Smiles, The late works of J. M. W. Turner : the artist and his critics, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, p.66, fig. 31, NJ18.t85 S655 2020 Oversize (YCBA)

Ian Warrell, Turner's Sketchbooks, Tate Publishing, London, 2014, pp. 224-26, NJ18.T85 W378 2014 (YCBA)

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