Joseph Mallord William Turner

Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat: A Procession Towards Holyrood


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

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 41

Catalogue entry

To make this view, continued on folio 40 verso (D17573), and drawn with the sketchbook inverted, Turner stood at the foot of Arthur’s Seat above St Margaret’s Loch and looked west out over the city of Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat rises above him to the left with a flag at its western summit. Halfway down the hill in the lower centre of folio 41 are the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel. Straight ahead at the right of the present page is the Palace of Holyrood with the Abbey drawn across the join of the two pages. There is a view of Holyrood Palace from the opposite direction on folio 37 of this sketchbook (D17566).
As Gerald Finley has pointed out, the inscription at the centre of folio 40 verso, ‘17 windows 8 attics’, refers to Holyrood with its three storeys of seventeen windows on its eastern façade and eight dormer windows in its roof. The inscription ‘Pilbox’ probably refers to some small box-shaped feature.1 There is a row of houses to the left of Holyrood where the Scottish Parliament now stands, and the inscription ‘water’ probably refers to a small loch. Nelson’s Monument stands behind Holyrood House at the summit of Calton Hill with Calton Gaol at its western foot. Either side of the Governor’s House (see Tate D13434; Turner Bequest CLXV 61a) are the spire of St Andrew’s Church and the column of the Melville Monument. The old North Bridge stands at the centre of the page, and to its left are the outlines of St Giles’s Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle. The view continues on folio 40 verso with the eastern half of Calton Hill, Holyrood Abbey and houses on Abbey Hill, and in the foreground is a path crossing St Ann’s Yards, now Holyrood Park.
Finley has regarded this drawing as the ‘King’s carriage and procession going to or coming from the review at Portobello Sands’ on 23 August 1822.2 The procession itself is rather obscure and is secondary in the picture to the topography. A series of small vertical dashes along and at the bottom of Calton Hill suggest a line of people snaking around the hill’s paths, and there are similar dashes clustered around the entrance to Holyrood House. At the bottom of folio 40 verso are a series of scribbles including two circles that can clearly be identified as a cart or coach. It is presumably this that Finley regarded as the King’s ‘carriage’. The procession therefore seems to come from Regent Bridge, up and around Calton Hill before turning west to enter the grounds of Holyrood.

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

Although the term ‘Pillbox’ was not commonly used to describe built structures until the First World War when they became the popular term for concrete gun emplacements, the Oxford English Dictionary cites examples of the term being applied – generally derogatively – for small buildings and objects such as T.J. Matthias’s reference to a carriage in 1789, ‘Pilbox’, Oxford English Dictionary online, accessed 10 June 2008,–4047&result_place=2
Finley 1981, p.83.
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, pp.209–13; John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, pp.298–301.
Prebble 1988, p.252.
Basil Skinner, Visit of George IV to Edinburgh 1822: an Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and engravings by Contemporary Artists Depicting the Ceremonies and Personalities Involved, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh 1961, p.10.
Gerald Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Proposal for a “Royal Progress”’, Burlington Magazine, vol.117, January 1975, p.32 note 26.
Finley. 1981, p.33.
Prebble 1988, p.292.

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