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Turner visited Dunbar in 1831 on his journey between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. He left Berwick at two o’clock in the afternoon on 11 August,1 and arrived in Edinburgh on the 13th, apparently in the early afternoon,2 He was likely to have stayed in Dunbar on the night of the 11th, making sketches in the morning before continuing his journey, perhaps spending the night of 12 August at Haddington (see folio 45a; D26003; CCLXVII 45a).
This was Turner’s third time in Dunbar following visits in 1801 and 1818; he had also sketched the town and its castle from the sea when he travelled by boat to Edinburgh in 1822 (Tate D17648; Turner Bequest CC 80).
In 1831 he had no particular reason to make sketches of the town as it was not on his itinerary of subjects to illustrate for Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works. Perhaps, finding he had spare time before his coach was to depart, Turner occupied himself by sketching the familiar scenery.
The five pages of sketches of Dunbar in this book each contain studies that correspond closely to sketches that Turner made on previous occasions. The main sketch on the current page thus forms almost exactly the same view as a drawing that Turner made in 1818 (Tate D13624; Turner Bequest CLXVII 23). The view is from the cliffs just west of Dunbar Castle and shows the castle ruins which sit on the rocky promontory near Dunbar Harbour.
There is another smaller and slighter sketch of the castle and headland above this sketch to the right. To the left of that is a rough drawing of some of the rocks that make up Long Craigs, with the other crags and stacks that are deposited just off the coast of Dunbar.
Other sketches of Dunbar appear on folios 50 verso–52 (D26012–D26015; CCLXVII 50a–52).
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Thursday 11 August 1831, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc.5188, Box 1, folio 111 verso; transcribed in Gerald E. Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner and Sir Walter Scott: Iconography of a Tour’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.31, 1972, p.385.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.132.