The Beacon Light by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). About 1835-45. Oil on canvas. Size: 61.5 x 96.0 cm. National Museum Cardiff [Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd]. Acquired: 1952. Bequest: Gwendoline Davies. Accession Number: NMW A 433. This painting was in the Davies sisters' collection: it has only recently been accepted as a genuine Turner. On the museum's own website, Turner is seen as having captured "the effect of light on a raging sea and the spray from the waves crashing against the cliff." There follows some interesting speculation about the painting's location:

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.

The discussion does not give the date at which the work is thought to have been painted, but it is dated in the gallery itself, as shown above, and a bit more narrowly in the Oxford Companion to Turner as 1835-40 (33), although here too without great confidence (because it had been both cut down and partially over-painted — as was then supposed, by another hand). The fact that Turner seems to have had a house at St. Margaret-at-Cliffe is also mentioned here (108).

The painting in its frame.

Photographs, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and the National Museum of Wales and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


"Art Collections Online — The Beacon Light." Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales. Web. 26 August 2019.

Joll, Evelyn, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann, eds. Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Created 26 August 2019