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That Turner inscribed this sketch ‘Loch Acray’ (Loch Achray) is indicative that he valued it above his other sketches of the loch; indeed it became the basis of his watercolour, Loch Achray circa 1832 (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection),1 engraved as the vignette illustration to the eighth volume of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: The Lady of the Lake, along with Loch Katrine circa 1832 (British Museum);2 see folio 47 (D26528).
The view is from the north shore of the loch, about 500 metres from the western end, where there is a slight rise near three ponds. From here we look down at a small bay (where Turner has made his inscription) and west across the head of the loch to the wooded area between Loch Achray and Loch Katrine called the Trossachs, with the profile of Ben Venue rising above it, and with the summit of Ben A’an at the right.
In making his watercolour vignette design, Turner used most of the sketch but manipulated some of its parts to make it fit the new format. Most notably, Ben Venue is made taller and narrower, and the hills beneath it – the leftmost of which is Gardh Innis – are compressed horizontally and all moved directly below the summit of Ben Venue; Ben A’an is also made more pronounced. Apart from that the watercolour remains quite true to this sketch, Turner having reproduced faithfully the shape and position of each hill.
Other sketches made at Loch Achray also concentrate on the view of the west end with Ben Venue and Ben A’an in the distance: folios 25, 25 verso, 29, 46, 48, 49 verso, 50 verso–51 verso, and 53 verso–54 verso (D26484, D26485, D26492, D26526, D26530, D26533, D26535–D26537, D26541–D26543). Turner was evidently interested in the area as a place from which to get a good view of the Trossachs, rather than for the sake of Loch Achray itself. The Trossachs were the setting of The Lady of the Lake (1810), and were by 1831 an increasingly popular tourist destination (see folio 47). Turner’s original inscription on the watercolour, ‘Trossacs from Loch Achray’ [sic] and the decorative cartouche surround which includes highlanders and a woman paddling a boat (neither of which were reproduced in the engraving after the watercolour) point to this literary source as the focus of Turner’s time in the Trossachs and Loch Achray.3
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1085; the sketch was identified by David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and In Islay – 1831’, , Tate catalogue files, [Folio 4].
Wilton 1979, p.429 no.1084.
Gerald Finley reports that by 17 September 1831, when Turner returned to Edinburgh before sailing back to London, the subjects under consideration for the vignette to Lady of the Lake were ‘Loch Achray, Trossachs and Benvenue’ (Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.242). Turner’s sketches demonstrate his attempts to include all of these in a single view, which he achieved in the current sketch and subsequent watercolour.