The Harbor of Brest: The Quayside and Château

oil painting of harbor scene

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
The Harbor of Brest: The Quayside and Château​, ca. 1826–28
Oil on canvas
68 × 88 in. (172.7 × 223.5 cm)
Tate; Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
© Tate, London 2016

This unfinished painting of Brest is now recognized as the third, along with Dieppe and Cologne, in a series of northern European ports with which it shares a similar palette and scale. The painting was rediscovered in the basement of the National Gallery, London, in the early 1940s, and its subject was more recently identified by the exhibition’s co-curator, Ian Warrell, based on cursory sketches from one of Turner’s trips to France. As in Dieppe, the viewer looks down a golden path of light on water to the sun, with elements of the city’s architecture on either side. At left, under the Château de Brest, a mass of figures stands on the pier, some in traditional Breton costume. Barely visible are the outlines of a masting station, a wooden crane fixed to the quayside, which Turner painted out. The painting offers an illuminating view into Turner’s working methods in his grand harbor scenes. He laid in the composition with areas of diluted oil paint — in tones of blue, orange, yellow, and ocher — applied thinly over a white absorbent ground. The forms of buildings, boats, and figures were then developed through modeling in light and dark.

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