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From a low viewpoint Turner has sketched the east side of St Michael’s Church, Linlithgow, continuing on folio 43 verso (D13656; CLXVII 41a) where the south side and crown spire are shown. At the left of the present page is the apse and, on the right behind the church, the eastern façade of Linlithgow Palace with a clump of trees to the right. The apse has decorative traced-worked windows on its three sides and a buttress at each corner. Turner has paid particular attention to these decorative features and carefully drawn an ornamental finial at the top of the page.
Standing next to one of the buttresses, a male figure in a long coat and hat gives a sense of the massive scale of the building, though the low vantage point makes it appear loftier than it actually is. The east side of the palace is notable for its ornate old entrance (now inaccessible), which Turner made a study of on folio 48 (D13665; CLXVII 46). A sketch on folios 45 verso to 46 (D13660–D13661; CLXVII 43a–44) shows a similar view of the church and palace, although made from a little to the north so that more of the palace and less of the church are visible, and, taking a step or two back, Turner made a third sketch of the apse of St Michael’s and the corner of Linlithgow Palace on folio 47 (D13662; CLXVII 45).
St Michael’s was in a sorry state when Turner saw it in 1818. Six years earlier the sixteenth-century oak-beamed ceiling had been removed because of rot and replaced with a plaster ceiling because of a shortage of oak due to the demands of shipbuilding in the Napoleonic wars. The inside of the church was also remodelled at this time, whitewashing over many of the original features. Three years after this sketch was made the crown spire had to be removed because it was in danger of collapsing. Linlithgow Palace, was similarly in a poor state of repair having lost its roof (though some of the gables were still extant) when it was burned by the Duke of Cumberland’s army in 1746.
This is the only sketch specifically of the church that Turner made in 1818, although he had drawn it in 1801, and many of the sketches of Linlithgow Palace in this sketchbook include part of the church. The spire is visible in Turner’s watercolour of Linlithgow Palace of 1821 (Manchester City Art Galleries).1
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1068.