Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Royal Squadron at Anchor in Leith Harbour


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 x 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 48 a

Catalogue entry

Turner was not the only person to take to the water on 15 August 1822 in order to get a closer look at the royal squadron before George IV landed at Leith, as this sketch evinces. Against the backdrop of Arthur’s Seat to the south, the royal squadron is lined up at anchor. In the centre of this image, made with the sketchbook turned to the left, is a large vessel. From its prominence in the picture, one may conclude it is the Royal George. However, it may perhaps be too large and high-hulled for the yacht, suggesting it may be a frigate such as the HMS Dover (see folio 61 verso; D17614). In front of this several barges are lined up and crowded with spectators who have come to see the squadron. Turner’s inscriptions refer to ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ boats among these.
John Prebble writes that, despite the relentless rain on the 14th, a considerable number of boats set out from Leith to visit the squadron, their passengers ‘cheering and singing the National Anthem until the king appeared’ on the quarterdeck to wave to the crowd, which included several people of his acquaintance.1 There were further private vessels around the squadron on the 15th, so that the flotilla of barges conveying George IV and his company to Leith was accompanied by ‘a swarm of private boats, clamorous, overladen and almost hidden by flags and bunting’.2
This scene was represented in Turner’s unfinished oil painting of The King’s Departure from the ‘Royal George’ in the Royal Barge, circa 1823 (Tate N02880),3 and several sketches capture the effect of boats bedecked with flags and bunting (see folio 64; D17618).

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.231.
Prebble 1988, p.246.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.154 no.248b.

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