Joseph Mallord William Turner

Details of Highland Dress


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 x 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 44 a

Catalogue entry

Across two pages, with the sketchbook inverted, Turner has made sketches and notes about highland dress. The notes are transcribed below.
[?]Household lanse r[...] and brown upont 
     new way 
Which worsted     a very [?]long kilt, on the sword [?]uniform 
[?]Ring Tartan plaid.      and much greyer than [?]His Men 
Which slacks [...] J[...] Who Highland shirt 
the men no life pakt 
But soon the same & being the small gun 
at the Back and front and double ruff 
Scabbard       yellow Red no Button 
                    From Red 
          Buckle [or ‘purple’]  
          Red Seams 
Gerald Finley has connected that these sketches to the drawings on folios 44 verso–45 (D17580–D17581) of the Peers’ Ball, held at the Assembly Rooms on 23 August 1822. This event was also known as the Highland Ball, as Sir Walter Scott had advised men attending to wear ‘the ancient Highland costume’,1 and bonnets, tartan and shields are all shown.
Although this was perhaps the best occasion to see the mania for highland costume and custom, Turner would have had ample opportunity to see highlanders as well as city dwellers dressed in full Celtic regalia. Sir Walter Scott had written to the heads of all the Clans requesting them to send contingents to take part in the various royal pageants (‘Highlanders are what he [the King] will most want to see’)2 and several hundred arrived, wearing specially commissioned costumes, to be joined by members of the Celtic Society and other gentlemen fond of dressing up and the Romantic and historic associations of the once outlawed garb.3 Thanks to Scott and his Hints, the various newly established Highland Societies and an inevitable public sense of patriotism inspired by the historic occasion, tartan and the other highland trappings were the vogue during the King’s visit.4
While folio 54 is mainly given over to drawings of bonnets, shields, dirks, belts and other items of highland garb, with a few explanatory notes, the present page consists mainly of written notes with a few illustrations relating to them. Because of Turner’s difficult handwriting and inconsistent and idiosyncratic note-taking, some of the inscriptions remain obscure and it has not been possible to separate the many different stream-of-consciousness-style notes that are jumbled together on this page (see above). While his lengthy descriptions have not been disentangled, references to particular objects of interest are apparent, including material such as ‘white worsted’ and ‘tartan plaid’, items of clothing including a ‘kilt’, a ‘double ruff’, ‘slacks’, ‘shirt’ and ‘buttons’, and costume accessories such as a ‘sword’, perhaps a ‘scabbard’ and a ‘small gun’. On the opposite page, in addition to the drawings already mentioned, are references to a ‘dirk’ (dagger) and a ‘Deer Horn’ (either the handle of a knife or a powder horn).

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Sir Walter Scott, Hints addressed to the Inhabitants of Edinburgh and others in prospect of His Majesty’s Visit by an Old Citizen, Edinburgh 1822, quoted in John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.103.
Sir Walter Scott to John Norman MacLeod, 22 July 1822, quoted in Prebble 1988, p.105.
Prebble 1988, pp.207–15.
For phenomena that became know as Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Celtification’, and that John Lockhart described as the ‘plaided panorama’ see John Prebble 1988, pp.18, 86–103, 211; also ‘Chapter 2: The Development of Mass Tourism, 1810–1914’, Katherine Haldrine Grenier, Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 1770–1914: Creating Caledonia, Aldershot 2005.
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.220.

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