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This sketch was made by Turner on 3 October 1834 during a two-day excursion from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders, undertaken to collect sketches for proposed illustrations of Scott’s works and for J.G. Lockhart’s Life of Scott.1 Having set off for Peebles on 2 October he travelled on to Innerleithen and St Mary’s Loch, continuing to Selkirk and Galashiels and then north to the Abbotsford estate, where this sketch was made. From here he proceeded to Melrose before returning to Edinburgh.
The sketch depicts Rhymer’s Glen, a wooded area on Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford estate near Chiefswood Cottage. Although considerably manipulated, it formed the basis of the watercolour vignette Rhymer’s Glen, Abbotsford, circa 1834 (National Gallery of Scotland),2 which was engraved by William Miller in 1835 to illustrate Scott’s Prose Works. The clue to the relationship between the sketch and final design is the small wooden bench just right of centre in the sketch, which appears more obviously in the vignette with the addition of a walking stick and a book in reference to the late poet and his works.3 At the left of the sketch is the twisting rivulet of Huntly Burn, which becomes much more prominent in the vignette, where the trees above are much denser; these may have been based on a sketch in the Abbotsford sketchbook (Tate D25934; Turner Bequest CCLXVII 4a) made during a visit in 1831. Turner must have referred to a number of different sketches of the glen to complete his design. Further views are on folios 49, 50, 51, 51 verso and 55 verso–57 (D26190, D26192, D26194, D26195, D26203–D26206).
Turner’s previous visit to the glen on 7 August 1831 was recorded in the Abbotsford sketchbook (Tate D25934–D25937; Turner Bequest CCLXVII 4a–6) and undertaken in preparation for a possible illustration to the fifth volume of Scott’s Poetical Works, Sir Tristrem. Soon after the visit, however, the subject was dropped as the choice of illustration. It was taken up again in 1834, when Turner was commissioned to paint a vignette to be engraved as the illustration to volume 21 of the Prose Works: Periodic Criticism. Gerald Finley has argued that the choice of subject was a reference to the critical achievements of Scott and his son-in-law and biographer John Gibson Lockhart, whose summer house Chiefswood is nearby (folio 52; D26196), and a reference to Scott’s critical reviews of books on landscape gardening, his interest in gardening and his practice of the Picturesque.4
It has previously been assumed that the sketches of Rhymer’s Glen in the Edinburgh sketchbook (1834) were made on the same occasion as those in the Abbotsford sketchbook. Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.862; Finley 1972, p.382 note 135.
Wilton 1979, p.432 no.1119.
Finley 1980, p.210.
Finley 1980, pp.208–9.