Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water

Joseph Mallord William Turner

English, 1775–1851

Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water


In many of his late paintings, Turner used vigorous brushstrokes and loosely defined forms to explore dramatic struggles between human beings and the elements. This work shows a storm raging in an English harbor town. Flares explode in the sky to alert ships to the location of shallow (shoal) water. On the shore huddled spectators stare out to sea, perhaps anxiously hoping their loved ones will survive the storm and return safely home.

Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 36 1/4 x 48 1/8 in. (92.1 x 122.2 cm) Frame: 48 5/8 x 60 3/4 x 5 in. (123.5 x 154.3 x 12.7 cm)
Object Number 1955.37
Acquisition Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1932
Status Off View

Image Caption

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water, 1840, Oil on canvas. The Clark Art Institute, 1955.37.


Lees, Sarah, ed. Nineteenth-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; New Haven and London: distributed by Yale University Press, 2012.


[Thomas Griffith, London, in 1843];¹ Charles Birch, Harborne, Birmingham (by 1850, sold to Day); William Day (1850–52, possibly sold to Birch); Charles Birch (from 1852, sold to Naylor); John Naylor, Leighton Hall, Welshpool (by 1856, sold to Agnew’s, 1863 );² [Agnew’s, London, in 1863, possibly sold to Graham]; John Graham (1863–64, sold to Agnew’s); [Agnew’s, London, in 1864, sold to McConnel];³ Henry McConnel, Cressbrook, Derbyshire (1864–d. 1871); Trustees of the estate of Henry McConnel (1871–85 ); Mary McConnel Worthington, his daughter, by descent (1885–86, McConnel sale, Christie’s, London, 27 Mar. 1886, no. 77, as Rockets and Blue Lights, Warning Ships off Shoal Water, Calais, sold to Agnew’s); [Agnew’s, London, from 1886]; Sir Julian Goldsmid, London (his sale, Christie’s, London, 13 June 1896, no. 54, ill., sold to Agnew’s); [Agnew’s, London, in 1896]; [Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, from 1896]; James Orrock, London (by 1900–1901, sold to Yerkes); Charles T. Yerkes, New York (1901–10, his sale, American Art Association, 5 Apr. 1910, no. 75, sold to Duveen); [Duveen Brothers, New York, 1910–14, sold to Knoedler]; [Knoedler, New York, in 1914, sold to Eastman]; George Eastman, Rochester (1914–16, returned to Knoedler); [Knoedler, New York, in 1916, sold to Schwab]; Charles M. Schwab, New York (1916–after 1928); [Knoedler, New York, sold to Clark, 31 Dec. 1932]; Robert Sterling Clark (1932–55); Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1955.

1. In 1843, John Ruskin refers to the picture as owned by Griffith. John Ruskin to William Wethered, 12 Dec. 1843, Victoria and Albert Museum, Pye MSS, 86.FF.73.
2. Most of the early provenance comes from Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner, 1984, p. 238, who note that Naylor made an inventory of his pictures in 1856, and probably acquired this picture between 1854 (when he lent his other Turners, but not this one, to an exhibition) and 1856. See also Edward Morris, "John Naylor and Other Collectors of Modern Paintings," Annual Report and Bulletin of the Walker Art Gallery, vol, 5, 1974–75, and a letter from the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 10 Apr. 1973, in the Clark’s curatorial file.
3. Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner, 1984, p. 238, list the painting in Graham’s collection until 1864; Maureen Allen, Cressbrook, 1996 states that McConnel bought it from Agnew’s in 1863.