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When, on 6 August 1831, Turner asked Sir Walter Scott which view of Melrose he would like to illustrate the Lay of the Last Minstrel volume of his Poetical Works, ‘Sir Walter replied that he would leave that to the Painter – so that nothing was settled’.1
Turner was then left to select a view of Melrose Abbey. As Robert Cadell recorded in his diary on 8 August 1831, ‘Mr Turner commenced three elaborate sketches of the ruin’.2 The present sketch has been identified as the first, a view ‘from the stone seat at the entry to the foot path leading to the village of Newstead.’3
A sketch at the left of the page shows part of the south transept of Melrose Abbey from the east. More of the building is very faintly outlined, though it has been drawn over.
Turner’s other two detailed sketches are on folios 12 and 13 verso–14 (D25948, D25951–D25952; CCLXVII 12, 13a–14). There is also a page of studies of the interior of the abbey on folio 12 verso (D25949; CCLXVII 12a). A view of Melrose from across the Tweed on folios 14 verso–15 (D25953–D25954; CCLXVII 14a–15) formed the basis of Turner’s watercolour, Melrose 1831 (National Galleries of Scotland)4 engraved for part 6 of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works. There are further sketches of Melrose Vale on folios 11 verso and 13 (D25947, D25950; CCLXVII 11a, 13). Turner also sketched Melrose in the Edinburgh sketchbook in 1834: Tate D26198 (Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 53).
Across the rest of the present page is part of a drawing of Edinburgh from Blackford Hill continued from folios 7 verso and 8 (D25939–D25940; CCLXVII 7a–8). This part of the drawing shows Arthur’s Seat with the south-east suburbs of Edinburgh. The sketch continues again on folio 13 (D25950; CCLXVII 13).
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Saturday 6 August 1831, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc. 5188, Box 1, folio 106 verso; transcribed in Finley 1972, p.380.
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Monday 8 August, folio 109; transcribed in Finley 1972, p.382.
Finley 1972, p.382 note 139.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.428 no.1080.