Boats off the coast, storm approaching

John Sell Cotman British

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 690

As he approached fifty, Cotman abandoned oil painting after a number of his works failed to sell and instead refocused his ambitions on watercolor. This luminous seascape demonstrates his mature mastery of the medium. The fishing boat threatened by a storm may allude to the artist’s personal struggles, but more obviously it pays tribute to J. M. W. Turner’s famous painting Dutch Boats in a Gale (1801; National Gallery, London), as both works are centered on a sharply canted, golden-sailed fishing boat, distant warship, and looming clouds. More generally, Cotman is declaring his admiration for seventeenth-century Dutch seascapes while also demonstrating how watercolors can effectively convey effects of light and weather. To produce the milky, foam-topped waves, for example, he experimented with mixing flour paste into his washes.

Boats off the coast, storm approaching, John Sell Cotman (British, Norwich 1782–1842 London), Watercolor over traces of graphite, with gouache (bodycolor), scratching out, stopping out, and gum arabic

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