Margate inspired J.M. Turner’s genius and his libido – I quite liked it too.

I’ve been writing about a pleasant weekend trip I took earlier this month around the coast of Kent in the UK.  After Whitstable and Broadstairs, I visited another well-known Kentish seaside resort, Margate which now houses Turner Contemporary, a handsome modern art gallery designed by David Chipperfield and opened in 2011. It sits comfortably on an impressive site by the town’s harbour and sent some panic through the rarefied offices of the World’s potential lending galleries when they thought what might happen to their precious works when displayed so close to the not always friendly North Sea. I feared that a brave piece of cultural innovation by Margate might struggle to attract interesting exhibits. It was, I suspect, decided early on that it’s location was much to precarious to house a substantial proportion of the nation’s collection great artist and Margate enthusiast,  J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851).

Coffee and ginger cake (2013), Turner Contemporary, Margate, 

I hadn’t visited the gallery until now and my first impressions were positive. A lovely building and, before, I saw any of the exhibits, I experienced my first Turner Contemporary artwork, an excellent  coffee and cake in the gallery’s  marine-view restaurant 

Conversation Piece III (2001) by Juan Menoz (1953-2001)

The setting is magnificent and I was immediately drawn to the first exhibition, the late Spanish sculptor, Juan Menoz’s sinister Conversation Piece III looking dramatic in front of the Margate seascape.

Curiostiy: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing, Turner Contemporary, Margate (24 May – 15 September 2013)

I was less interested in the main exhibition: Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing that finished last week. Quirky and varied as it was, it didn’t hole my attention as it felt much too sporadic for my taste. Maybe I’m not curious enough. The next exhibition looks a lot more interesting. Turner and Constable: Sketching from Nature. An exhibition of outdoor sketches by Turner and Constable  from the Tate collection which also includes  with works by George Stubbs, John Sell Cotman, John Crome and Francis Danby. It’s on from 5th October 2013 until 5th January 2014.

The Sea Near Brighton (1826) by John Constable (1776-1837). The Tate Gallery, London

I hope that Turner Contemporary will keep mounting exciting contemporary work too – the Juan Menoz piece showed just how good a space this is for new work. In the end the most impressive image was the large first floor window with its panoramic view of the North Sea. The gallery has been built on the site of the boarding house where Turner actually stayed on his many visits to Margate and this view, albeit through a small 19th Century window, would have been one of the reasons for his inspiration.

The town is lucky indeed that inspired so many Turner paintings.

Margate (1830) by J.M.W. Turner. The Tate Gallery, London

Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore at Margate (c.1840) by J.M.W.Turner 

(Study for ‘Rockets and Blue Lights’) The Tate Gallery, London

Mrs Booth by Ann Carrington (2009)

We should be grateful too to the landlady of that boarding house, Sophia Booth, the widow of a sea captain, who, it is said, gave Turner more than just bed and breakfast. In Margate, the artist often referred to himself as Mr Booth. Margate commissioned sculptor Ann Carrington to immortalise this woman who succeeded in drawing Turner down to Margate frequently for the rest of his life. Let’s hear it for the much maligned English seaside landlady.

J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)

We may associate Turner with his great proto-modern landscapes with their revolutionary recording speed and light but he was a lusty man susceptible to the attraction of the buxom feminine form too especially, if modern art researchers are correct, in the form of Sophia Booth herself.

A Sleeping Woman (c.1830) by J.M.W. Turner. The Tate Gallery, London
After his death, some books of his erotic sketches were found and  nearly destroyed on the advice of that greatly repressed Victorian art historian John Ruskin. They show how Turner’s delight in voluptuous female nudes. Whoever were the models, Sophia Booth lives on in some of these images.

Reclining Female Nude (1809) by J.M.W. Turner. The Tate Gallery, London

‘Nude Girl and a Companion on a Bed’ (1802) by J.M.W. Turner. The Tate Gallery, London. 

Enough of that, away from his Margate bed, Turner was intoxicated by the light on this part of the coast where the North Sea meets the English Channel and we are the beneficiaries of whatever drew him to this little Kentish town.

Turner’s The New Moon (1840) by J.M.W. Turner (subtitled I’ve lost My Boat, You shan’t have Your Hoop) The Tate Gallery, London

Margate from the Sea, Whiting Fishing (1822) by J.M.W.Turner. Private Collection
I was much too young to have known anything about modern versions of Sophia Booth, if there were any here in Margate when, as a small child,  I was brought here by my parents. 

In my memory it is still a perpetually sunny seaside paradise as long as you don’t let those crabs don’t bite your toes.

As I’ve been reporting, I’m getting into gear for the imminent publication (31st October 2013)  of my novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.
You can already pre-order the book from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing:
…or from Book Depository:
…or from Amazon:


  1. I first saw the new gallery about two years ago and was impressed with both the building and the exhibition. I was also impressed at another level by the way in which, as a matter of policy, they were employing very friendly and efficient young staff who for various reasons would be unlikely to get jobs elsewhere.

    When I was there a few weeks ago I also liked the new sea defences along the promenade, built since my last visit.

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