Lights will guide you home: Turner at Calais #3

This article continues the consideration of Turner’s watercolour and 1836 engraving of the harbour at Calais. In part 2 we took a tour round the principal landmarks, and gathered a few photographic references. Here, we complete our survey of other sketches by Turner that might have proved useful references in the development of the watercolour.

Calais, an illustration to Walter Scott’s ‘Tales of a Grandfather’, i.e. Calais Harbour, with the church of Notre Dame, Tour du Guet, Hotel de Ville and Porte de Mer, c.1834
Watercolour vignette, image approx 152 x 102 mm, on sheet, 444 x 345 mm
France, Calais, Musee du Calais
Image Sotheby’s 8 June 1999, lot 25

The artist passed through Calais on numerous occasions and made a large number of sketches. It would be rewarding to make a comprehensive review of all Turner’s Calais subjects, but that lies well beyond the scope of the present article.

Turner made his first tour abroad in 1802 and landed at Calais. Among the sketches made on that occasion is one in the Small Calais Pier sketchbook (TB LXXI 61) of the Tour du Guet and Hotel de Ville from the Place d’Armes :

He also made a sketch of the key landmarks from offshore on page 6 of the same sketchbook:

His interest in 1802 was principally maritime and fired by the rather dubious pleasures of arriving in boisterous weather. That culminated in a monumental painting of Calais Pier (National Gallery) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803,

and the sketch from the harbour mouth above seems to have informed the composition engraved in 1816 for his series of the Liber Studiorum.

In 1826 he returned to the subject of the Tour du Guet and Hotel de Ville as seen from the Place d’Armes in two very similar sketches on blue paper, TB CCLX 22

and TB CCLX 21

and he also sketched the two towers more obliquely in street views from the west and east in


and TB CCLX 133

In 1826 Turner’s preoccupation was with the variety of figures and activities in the town. There are soldiers on parade, market sellers and hawkers, and townsfolk carousing. They are a reminder, if it were needed, of Turner’s constant interest in the human and social dimensions and his subjects, alongside the phenomenal.

Thus we might now return to the watercolour and its engraving with the perspective gained from examining the objects in view and the light of Turner’s observations and interests.


Tour de Guet and H?tel de Ville, Calais c.1826-30 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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