Joseph Mallord William Turner

Frontispiece to Volume One of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland


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

Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 241 x 178 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVIII A

Display caption

Walter Scott had originally commissioned Turner and several other artists to provide illustrations for the 'Provincial Antiquities of Scotland' in 1818. Although the project was foundering a little by 1822, Turner re-visited Scotland that year, possibly influenced by the decision of George IV to go to Edinburgh. The sketches he made provided the basis for his final watercolours for the publication, including that of 'Bass Rock', as well as for two vignette designs which formed the frontispieces to the two volumes of the finished book.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Executed in monochrome grey watercolour (or Indian ink) and pencil,1 this is Turner’s design for the title vignette to Volume One of the 1826 bound edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland (see also Tate D13749; Turner Bequest CLXVIII B). Turner had already produced a series of topographical watercolours to be engraved for the ten parts of the series (see 1818 Scottish Tour Introduction)2 and was commissioned by Scott to produce these vignettes to add interest to the bound edition following his visit to Edinburgh in 1822.
The image is of Edinburgh Castle, as seen from the top of the Royal Mile to the east. Turner has added the title at the top of the page, along with a Latin motto and the emblem of a thistle, and an heraldic configuration of objects at the bottom of the page. In front of the castle gate is a large crowd of people, and there is a large puff of white smoke to the right of the castle.
Gerald Finley has demonstrated that this depicts an event from the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. The event was a procession led by the King returning the Regalia of Scotland (the sword, crown and sceptre of state) to the castle. The cannon smoke indicates that the moment depicted is when George IV stepped out onto the platform of the Half Moon Battery accompanied by cannon fire.3
Turner witnessed the celebrations from inside the castle, drawing the view from the King’s apartment and the Half Moon Battery (Tate D17565; Turner Bequest CC 36a), so this design was not based on his own on-the-spot sketches. Rather it derives from a tiny thumbnail composition drawn at the back of the King at Edinburgh sketchbook as one in a series of nineteen compositions (composition ‘14’, Tate D40980; Turner Bequest CCI inside back cover). Finley has identified the source of this composition as a watercolour by James Skene which not only shows the same view, but even the same moment: James Skene, King George IV at Edinburgh Castle, circa 1822 (Edinburgh City Libraries).4 (For more information on Turner’s depiction of the royal visit, see George IV’s Visit to Edinburgh 1822 Tour Introduction.)
Finberg 1909, I, p.488, CLXVIII A.
Thomson 1999.
Finley 1975, p.32–5; Finley 1981, p.35.
Finley 1981, pp.18–19.
Piggot 1993, p.33.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908 and 1913, p.69 no.128; Piggott 1993, p.33.
The motto is usually written as ‘Nemo me Impune Lacessit’ (No one provokes me with impunity). While the variation ‘Lacesset’ is occasionally used (for example on a 1778 $20 bill from Georgia, USA), ‘Lacessit’ is the usual spelling in the Scottish military context. It is possibly that Turner changed the word to alter the significance of the phrase, but perhaps more likely that it is simply a spelling mistake.
Finley 1975, p.35.
The Order of the Thistle is also referred to in the engraving of the vignette to volume two (see Tate D13749; Turner Bequest CLXVIII B), but not Turner’s original design.
Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, p.108 no.189.
There were two periods in which the future of the project was particularly uncertain. Early 1823 when the business began to flounder and Edward Blore was obliged to ask the shareholders for a contribution to keep the project afloat, and around 1825 when, following a national economic crash, the publishers, Rodwell and Martin, sold their share in the business to J. & A. Arch of Cornhill, whose name appeared on the engraving of Revd John Thomson of Duddingston’s Craigmillar Castle in the tenth and final number in December 1826, and on Turner’s title-page vignettes. (Thomson 1999, pp.16–17). With the uncertain prospect of the plates being published during these periods, Turner may have refrained from inscribing Rodwell and Martin’s name on his design, suggesting that the designs were painted during one of these two periods. It is also possible, however, that Turner simply left the engraver to add the publisher’s credit as he saw fit.

Thomas Ardill
December 2009

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