Joseph Mallord William Turner

Edinburgh Castle from the West

1818

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 99 x 159 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D13397
Turner Bequest CLXV 43

Catalogue entry

Turner made numerous studies of Edinburgh Castle from all sides taken from the streets of the city and its outskirts, drawing its details from each side and setting it within the landscape. This view of the castle from the west clearly shows the individual buildings including the Ordnance Stores with its imposing façade, sloped roof and arcade, and to its right the New Barracks. There is a similar view on folio 66 verso (D13440; CLXV 64a), though taken from the north-west.
In this view, Turner has paid attention to the large Castle Rock. Just as in the east-coast subjects sketched on this tour, we come across the same combination of man-made and natural fortifications, and again Turner is interested in exploring the relationship between natural and manmade structures. Turner contrasts the rigid straight lines of the castle buildings with their right angles, vertical parallels, and neat rows of windows, with the irregular, broken diagonals of the rocks. There are, however, similarities with the structures that imitate nature’s works: the step-shape of the curtain wall, the broken lines of turrets and chimneys, and the diagonals of roofs.
There is a difference, however, between Edinburgh Castle and the east-coast castles of Dunbar and Tantallon, and the fortification on the Bass Rock, although it is not demonstrated in this view. While the latter are man-made structures surrounded by rugged and sublime nature, uninhabited, abandoned and ravaged by time and the weather, Edinburgh Castle is situated in the middle of a capital city, surrounded on all sides by streets, houses, shops, businesses and people. Here it is man that encroaches upon nature. However, just as Dunbar, Tantallon and the Bass Rock fort withstand the wind and waves, Edinburgh Castle is protected against modern man and his impact on the landscape by its position on the immutable Castle Rock.

Thomas Ardill
November 2007

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