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Calais Sands at Low Water: Poissards Collecting Bait

Joseph Mallord William Turner

This extraordinary painting by JMW Turner is not only the ‘star’ painting in the Wrigley Gift, but also the finest and most important picture in the entire collection at Bury.

It is an excellent example of a sunset by an artist who is renowned for painting them. JMW Turner is generally accepted to have been the most important British painter of the 19th century whose high reputation has remained undimmed since his death in 1851.

The painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1830. At one level the picture is a view of Calais with enough recognisable elements in it to establish the location, notably the jetty and Fort Rouge on the left-hand side.

At another level it is a scene from everyday life with fisherwomen busy gathering bait on the beach in order to bait the lines for the next day’s fishing.

However, the real subject would appear to be the spectacular sunset that dominates about half of the picture surface and illuminates the seemingly limitless expanse of sand, water and sky, creating long shimmering reflections and subtle blends of colour.

The painting forms part of the Thomas Wrigley Gift which was accepted by Bury in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.