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David Cox, 1783–1859
Crossing Lancaster Sands
Additional Title(s):
On Lancaster Sands, Sunset (Crossing Lancaster Sands)
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor, gouache and graphite and scratching out on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Mount: 14 5/16 × 20 1/16 inches (36.4 × 51 cm), Contemporary drawn border: 11 7/16 × 17 1/8 inches (29.1 × 43.5 cm), Sheet: 11 3/16 × 16 7/8 inches (28.4 × 42.9 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, verso, center right: "M board | 1/4" FM | outside 19" x 25""

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
bay (body of water) | beach | carriage | cart | crossing | horses (animals) | landscape | light | men | mountains | people | sand | sunset | tides | travel | travelers
Associated Places:
Lancaster | Morecambe Bay | Ulverston | United Kingdom
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
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IIIF Manifest:

Until the Ulverston-Carnforth railway opened in 1857, travelers making their way between Ulverston to the north of Morecambe Bay and Lancaster to the south had no alternative but to cross the sands at the head of the bay. It was a treacherous route beset by fog, quicksand, and rapidly incoming tides. Lives were regularly lost, and travelers relied on guides to conduct them safely across.
Cox first visited Morecambe Bay during a sketching tour in the north of England in late July 1834, returning in July and September the following year and again in 1840. These visits afforded material for a series of variations on the subject of travelers making the journey across the sands (the northern stretch known as Ulverston Sands, the southern expanse as Lancaster Sands), which Cox produced in both watercolor and oil between 1835 and 1847. J.?M. W. Turner had already treated the subject in one of his watercolors for Picturesque Views in England and Wales (British Museum, London). The engraving by Robert Brandard (fig. 100) was published in 1829, and the watercolor was exhibited in London in 1829 and again in 1833. Turner's Lancaster Sands capitalizes on the inherent drama in the crossing. Travelers hurry along as the tide advances. Beyond the sands rise mountains whose sublime forms are echoed and extended by the clouds of an agitated sunset sky.
Although Solly's description of Ulverston Sands (cat. 60) as "one of the most perfect of this delightful subject, full of atmosphere and movement"1 scarcely suggests it, the watercolor, one of the first that Cox exhibited of the subject, comes closest to the dramatic Turnerian treatment. Heavy clouds roll across the landscape, and travelers bunch together on a knoll overlooking the sands, reluctant to descend to that treacherous expanse in the face of the imminent storm. Crossing Lancaster Sands (cat. 61) is more typical of the way Cox would develop the series, downplaying the drama and concentrating on the effects of light and air and reflection within the simple geometry of a line of travelers moving toward or away from the viewer across the featureless sands.

Scott Wilcox

Scott Wilcox, Sun, wind, and rain : the art of David Cox, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008, pg. 189, cat. no. 61, NJ18 .C829 W542 + Oversize (YCBA)

Sun, Wind, and Rain - The Art of David Cox (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 2009-01-31 - 2009-05-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Sun, Wind, and Rain - The Art of David Cox (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-10-16 - 2009-01-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857., Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 192, no. 487, N5056 .M35 M25 1857 (YCBA) Also available in Hathitrust [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Sun, wind, and rain : the art of David Cox, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008, pp. 48, 186, 189, no. 61, NJ18 .C829 W542 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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