In 1825 Joseph Mallord William Turner began the "Picturesque Views in England and Wales" series, one of his most ambitious projects, which the Turner expert Eric Shanes has been labeled “the central document in Turner’s art.” The series called for engravings based on 120 newly commissioned watercolors. By 1838, however, only 96 prints had been issued, and the project was terminated. The stock of engraved plates and prints was auctioned off, and Turner paid more than £3,000 to buy them all back. Although the series never materialized, it inspired some of his finest watercolors, including "Lyme Regis," a work titled after the small coastal town near the Dorset/Devon border.
Turner based "Lyme Regis" on several sketches in the "Devonshire Coast No. 1" sketchbook, which Turner used in 1811 on his first tour of the southwestern coast of England. On the violent sea, a sailing vessel struggles to retrieve a ship’s mast and top, which can be seen above the salvage ship's sales. On the beach, two men drag wreckage out of the water and prepare to attach a line from a horse to pull it inland. Turner casts the town, Lyme Regis, in brilliant light. The fluid brushstrokes and complex composition create abstract patterns that sweep across the image.