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Turner was commissioned to depict the High Street in Edinburgh for Scott’s Provincial Antiquities publication: Edinburgh High Street, circa 1818 (Yale Center for British Art),1 so there are several sketches of different parts of the street in this and the Bass Rock and Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate D13412; Turner Bequest CLXV 50a). All are careful and detailed studies and demonstrate the artist seeking to record as much architectural, commercial and incidental information as possible.
The present view looks west along the High Street towards the Lawnmarket and castle with St Giles’s Cathedral on the left, and continues to the left of the page on folio 39 verso (D13648; CLXVII 37a). Particular attention is paid here to the cathedral with its ornate open-crown spire, windows and buttresses. The north side of the street is lined with tall and narrow buildings; here Turner has been able to economise to some extent by using his customary shortcut for windows: parallel vertical lines. There is less detail on folio 39 verso, but here Turner has used dozens of inscriptions to records details about the buildings and shops. For his watercolour of the street Turner relied on another drawing in this sketchbook, this time looking east (folios 67 verso–68; D13701–D13702; CLXVII 64a–65).
The top edge and fore-edge are both slightly scuffed and a small tear at the lower left has been repaired.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1061.