Bonhams to Sell J.M.W. Turner Masterpiece Depicting Whitstable Oyster Beds

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Bonhams to Sell J.M.W. Turner Masterpiece Depicting Whitstable Oyster Beds
JMW Turner, Oyster Beds at Whitstable, Kent. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- One of the highlights of Bonhams next 19th Century Paintings sale will be a remarkable watercolour of the Oyster Beds at Whitstable, Kent by the master of colour, light and atmosphere, J.M.W. Turner. It is estimated to sell for £120,000-180,000 when it is offered for auction on 13th July 2011, at Bonhams New Bond Street.

Turner lived in Margate for 20 years, just along the coast from Whitstable, and was fascinated by the pure, bright light of the region and particularly the sunsets. The landscape, skies and light of Kent inspired many of his works, its “dawn clouds to the east and glorious sunsets to the west...the loveliest skies in Europe.”

This watercolour was one of 40 that Turner created for W.B. Cooke’s folio of engravings, Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England. It was painted in 1824, and engraved by H. Horsburgh and appeared as plate 1 in the catalogue which was published in 1826. Other views include St Michaels Mount, Pendennis Castle and Dover from Shakespeare’s Cliffs, a version of which is in Tate Britain.

Oyster Beds at Whitstable, Kentis remarkable for demonstrating Turner’sunique ability to capture the moisture of the sea air under dramatic lighting. The work 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.

In 1827 The Gentlemen’s Magazine reviewed Cooke’s book, “in the view of Whitstable, engraved by Horsboroogh, 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.”

In the 18th century, the town of Whitstable was notorious for smuggling. By the time Turner painted this view, this trade was nearly eradicated and it was hoped that the oyster fisheries would help give the area more stable and respectable support and income. In 1793 the Free Fisher and Dredgers was formed by an Act of Parliament, and it subsequently became the Whitstable Oyster Fisheries Company which still flourishes today. Whitstable oysters are much in demand and the town will be holding its annual Oyster Festival between 23rd – 29th July 2011.

Charles O’Brien, Head of Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Department, comments, “Turner’s name is synonymous with paintings of light, and this example is no exception, demonstrating his mastery of both medium and subject. We are very excited to be offering this beautiful picture in July.”

Also included in the sale is a Turner painting of St. Mary’s Church, Dover which is estimated to sell for £12,000-18,000. It is a relatively early work by Turner which makes an interesting comparison with this later, more atmospheric depiction of Whitstable Bay.

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