Beaugency by J.M.W. Turner
watercolour and bodycolour on blue paper, 12.4 cm x 18.3 cm
bequeathed to the Tate Gallery by the artist 1856
A town on a beach: sky above, water below. At left and right in the foreground are boats.
The flooding light of the cloudless sky is perhaps the continuous colour of the paper, not a uniform wash of watercolour, but it's striking. Below, it's reflected in the water. If it wasn't for the two boats, which must have some berth, you'd imagine the whole lower part was a sheet of wet buff sand, with reflections of the sky and town on the evanescent mirror the tide had left behind. The sea is a mix of sandy and skyey colours, and yellower reflections under the boats.
The town, in a thin band along the centre, is drawn all in carmine and filled in all in buff, with little variation in hue, only in tone and accentuation. A church steeple in the centre to one side, and behind it, in balance, a somewhat spectral castle bastion, break the skyline, but without dominating the immensity of the Mediterranean azure. On the left it goes up a little on a hill, while on the right there's another smaller tower: both these alter the flatness but give no prominence.
A pier of many arches comes across the right. Unobtrusively it extends a long way, showing that the seashore is a long way from us. That impression is confirmed by the very small carmine marks at the base of the pier that on close inspection resolve into boat shapes: a barge or punt perhaps. Quite different from the two close by.
Or more than two. On the right is a golden-yellow one, partly covered in a cloth, with oars tied to one end and several people in the other. Beaked like a gondola. But at the other side what seemed one, a dirty brown one with a cabin in the centre, turns out to be hiding one or two others in its shadows. Several indistinct people may be made out; I think one on the nearer one is talking to someone on the shadowed one.
All this life and detail, and the whole thing is barely larger than the postcard of it I'm looking at.