Art Collections Online

The Beacon Light

TURNER, Joseph Mallord William (1775 - 1851)

The Beacon Light

Media: oil on canvas

Size: 61.5 x 96.0 cm

Acquired: 1952; Bequest; Gwendoline Davies

Accession Number: NMW A 433

Collection: The Davies Sisters Collection

This painting was rejected as genuine in 1956 and in the 1977 complete catalogue of Turner’s paintings is described as ‘a partly reworked fragment; with a ‘curiously unauthentic appearance’ that ‘has certainly been worked on by a hand other than Turner’s.  After recent investigations into the materials and technique it is now accepted as genuine and solely the hand of Turner. 

Turner captures the effect of light on a raging sea and the spray from the waves crashing against the cliff.   His intention here was to explore the nature of the sea under a changing sky, rather than to depict a specific place.  However, the discovery of a painted out lighthouse on the cliff edge has prompted new research into a possible location.  Traditionally said to show The Needles, Isle of Wight, it is now thought to depict the coastline from St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, north of Dover looking towards the South Foreland Lighthouse, where there was both a beacon and a lighthouse.  There is evidence that Turner may have had a house at St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe around the date of this painting. 

Gwendoline Davies purchased Beacon Light for £2,625 at auction through Hugh Blaker in June 1922. 


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