Joseph Mallord William TurnerFive Studies of Ardtornish Castle 1831

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Artwork details

Five Studies of Ardtornish Castle
From Sound of Mull (?) No. 1 Sketchbook
Turner Bequest CCLXXIV
Date 1831
MediumGraphite on paper
Dimensionssupport: 91 x 153 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXIV 9 a
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Catalogue entry

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 9 Verso:
Five Studies of Ardtornish Castle 1831
Turner Bequest CCLXXIV 9a
Pencil on white wove paper, 91 x 153 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXIV – 9a’ top left descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan identified the sketches on this page, and on folios 6 verso, 9 and 10 (D26947, D26951, D26953) as Tioram Castle in Loch Moidart. A trip to Loch Moidart would have represented a detour for the boat that brought Turner to Skye, yet the authors argue that the boat ‘offered travellers a good view of the castle by sailing a mile or two into Loch Moidart.’1 The Steamboat Companion,2 which may have been Turner’s guide, makes no mention of Castle Tioram, but other books about the area, including John MacColloch’s popular account, mention the castle and praise its ‘picturesque elevation on the margin of the sea’; although MacColloch also warns about the dangers of entering Loch Moidart, which he describes as ‘a dangerous and awkward bay to trust.’3 While a detour to Loch Moidart may therefore have been a possibility, it is perhaps unlikely.
However, none of these ruins identified as Tioram Castle closely resembles the castle or setting. It is not even certain that all the sketches are of the same castle, although they are all roughly square in shape with what looks like a gable, tower or vertical slice of masonry at one end, and all sit on a promontory or headland. The shape of the ruins depicted here are quite different from Tioram Castle, which is a tower house with other ruined buildings surrounded by a five-sided curtain wall that sits on a peninsular in the loch.
A closer match is Ardtornish Castle, situated on the promontory of Ardtornish Point on the northern Morvern shore of the Sound of Mull. This ruin has a higher section of wall with a window in it at the centre of its southern elevation, and a triangular stump of masonry at the north-east corner. The sketches may therefore show Ardtorish from the south, made as Turner’s steamboat passed by on its way up the Sound of Mull to Skye. See for comparison a sketch in the Staffa sketchbook which may carry an inscription related to Ardtornish (Tate D26838; Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 50), and several others depicting a ruin that is very similar in appearance to the present sketch (Tate D26842; Tuner Be quest CCLXXIII 52). The sketch on the other side of the present page may also be of Ardtornish (folio 9).

Thomas Ardill
February 2010

David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner on the Isle of Skye 1831’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, [folio 6].
James Lumsden and Son, Lumsden and Son’s Steamboat Companion; or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow 1839.
John MacColloch, The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, vol.II, London 1824, pp.186–7.

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