On 3 October 1834, towards the end of a two-day excursion from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders, Turner reached Abbotsford, the home of the late poet Sir Walter Scott; see Edinburgh sketchbook 1834 for the itinerary of this journey. This was his second visit to the house, following a five-day stay with Scott in August 1831, during which time he made numerous sketches in the Abbotsford sketchbook (Tate D25929–D26095; D40995–D40996; Turner Bequest CCLXVII complete). Those sketches formed the basis of a watercolour design which was engraved to illustrate Scott’s Poetical Works: Abbotsford, circa 1832 (private collection).1 In 1834 Turner had a second commission to paint the house, this time as an illustration to John Gibson Lockhart’s Life of Scott. Therefore he diligently included a return to Abbotsford on the itinerary of his 1834 Scottish tour, along with a visit to nearby sites associated with Scott: Rhymer’s Glen (folio 50 verso; D26193), Chiefswood Cottage (folio 52; D26196) and Melrose (folio 53; D26198).
This time he made five very quick sketches of Abbotsford. On the present page is the first of a run of four, all made from across the River Tweed to the west: folios 47–48 verso (D26186–D26199). This was the view that Turner chose (perhaps under the direction or advice of Lockhart and his publisher Robert Cadell) for his watercolour, Abbotsford from the Northern Bank of the Tweed, circa 1838 (whereabouts unknown),2 which was engraved in 1839 by William Millar for the Life. A similar composition was also adopted for a watercolour sketch: Abbotsford, circa 1838 (Hickman Bacon Collection) (see folio 47 verso; D26187),3 and a metal tray bearing a similar design – Abbotsford, circa 1838 (Indianapolis Museum of Art) – although Andrew Wilton and Martin Butlin have doubted that the latter is by Turner.4
The composition of the present sketch matches the Lockhart design quite closely, with the house perched above the riverbank at the right, a backdrop of hills, and the River Tweed flowing from the bottom right to the top left of the page. The house itself, however, is very roughly scribbled in this and the other sketches. Turner must have referred to sketches in the Abbotsford sketchbook for details of the architecture. One sketch in particular shows the house from the same angle, though from a little lower down the riverbank (Tate D26048; Turner Bequest CCLXVII 70).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.430 no.1093.
Wilton 1979, p.435 no.1142.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.223 pl.104 reproduced in black and white.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.306–7 no.524.