Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tantallon Castle and Bass Rock from the East


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVII 8 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn across two sketchbook pages (continuing on folio 9; D13599; CLXVII 8b) is the view upon which Turner based his watercolour, Tantallon Castle, 1821 (Manchester City Galleries),1 for the Provincial Antiquities. Finberg regarded the sketch on folios 5 verso–6 (D13593–D13594; CLXVII 5a–6) as the basis of the design,2 and indeed it was that sketch that provided the details of the castle, but it is the present drawing that forms the viewpoint and composition.
Standing on an outcrop of rocks known as the Gegan which fills the foreground, and from which Turner also sketched Bass Rock (Bass Rock and Edinburgh sketchbook Tate D13326; Turner Bequest CLXV 3a), we look towards Tantallon Castle, which is perched on a headland. Filling half of the present page at the left and dominating the foreground, the cliff wall gives the castle and island a sense of distance and scale. The Bass Rock (inscribed ‘Bass’) emerges from above an upward sloping shelf of rock to the left. From this viewpoint we look up at the castle, which appears desolate, but imposing, stranded on its jutting headland, with the sea brought much closer to the viewer, emphasising its relationship with the castle. In the final design Turner exaggerated these features by shifting the castle further out to sea, and showing the waves crashing against the rocks, throwing up spray and creating pools in the foreground.
There are small pale brown marks at the top and bottom right and a faint blue ink mark at the bottom right, which are mirrored on folio 9.

Thomas Ardill
February 2008

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1067.
Finberg 1909, I, p.485, CLXVII 8a.

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