View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This highly detailed and beautifully rendered drawing of Heriot’s Hospital school was made from the grounds to the south-east; Edinburgh Castle, which lies about four hundred metres away to the north, can be seen at the right.
The school, described by Sir Walter Scott as ‘one of the proudest ornaments of Edinburgh’,1 is reputed to have been designed by Inigo Jones,2 though the architects were in fact William Wallace and William Aytoun; it was completed by about 1650. Turner had sketched the building in 1818 (Tate D13744; Turner Bequest CLXVII 86) in preparation for a watercolour which was engraved to illustrate Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland: Heriot’s Hospital, circa 1819 (National Gallery of Scotland).3
The time and effort dedicated to this sketch suggests that Turner considered the subject as having the potential for a painting. Gerald Finley has suggested that Heriot’s Hospital may have been considered as a suitable illustration to The Fortunes of Nigel in the new edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Prose Works.4 According to the publisher Robert Cadell’s diary, he discussed the choice of remaining subjects to be sketched by Turner in preparation for the Prose Works on the morning of 1 October, before accompanying him to Heriot’s Hospital.
In addition to the drawing of the building, which itself contains a wealth of architectural detail, Turner drew a series of architectural features at the top of the page. These all help to clarify smaller details in the main sketch.
At the left of the page is a sketch of a baluster with the note ‘12’. This is one of the twelve balusters that make up each section of the balustrade that surrounds the terrace around the school. Turner has drawn a few of these at the far left of the terrace to give an impression of the look of the whole, but contented himself with vertical dashes to indicate others, or simply left blank space between the pillars. He noted that there are ‘10’ sections of balustrade between the two sets of steps at the left of the sketch.
Walter Scott, ‘Heriot’s Hospital from the West Bow’, The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, Vol.VII, Provincial Antiquities, Edinburgh and London 1834, p.262.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1064.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, pp.182, 258 note 46. Although the school’s founder, George Heriot, appears as a character in the novel, the school does not feature in the main text at all. Scott, however, does mention the founding of the school in his introduction to the novel (Walter Scott, The Fortunes of Nigel, 1822). This novel has been credited with ‘awakening a deep interest in the public mind in favour of George Heriot’ (William Steven, History of George Heriot’s Hospital, with a Memoir of the Founder Together with an Account of The Heriot Foundation Schools, new edition revised and enlarged by Fredrick W. Bedford, Edinburgh and London 1859, p.27).
Scott 1834, p.263.
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