Joseph Mallord William Turner

The West Pier, Leith Harbour; Edinburgh from the Water of Leith

1822

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 185 x 116 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D40687

Catalogue entry

Turned to the right, the inside front cover of this sketchbook contains various notes and four sketches, as well as subsequent inscriptions and stamps by Turner’s executors and A.J. Finberg.
The inscriptions, ‘2 Elsworth’ and ‘Anderson Buildings’ are presumable addresses, although their location and significance has not been established. The capital of a Doric column is roughly sketched above the inscription.
At the centre of the page is a sketch of a pier with a small signal tower or lighthouse at its head inscribed ‘Leith’. The pier is identifiable by comparison with two paintings by Thomas Butterworth of the Royal George arriving in Leith Roads.1 The two paintings show the pier, which Peter Stubbs has identified as the West Pier in the Butterworth painting, with Leith’s Martello (or ‘Telly’) tower to its left.2 The tower is still extant but now subsumed by the eastern breakwater of Leith Harbour, while the West Pier has been removed along with the lighthouse and the building in the background of Turner’s sketch.
Turner’s drawing, like Butterworth’s paintings, shows the pier crowded with tiny figures and a flag flying from the top of the lighthouse, and was probably made either on 14 August 1822 when the royal squadron arrived in Leith, or the following day when the King disembarked at the harbour. A sketch on folio 67 verso (Tate D17624; Turner Bequest CC 67a) also shows this pier.
At the bottom of the page is a view of Edinburgh from the Water of Leith. The view looks south towards the city which is seen through the trees that line the banks of the river, with the Georgian New Town in the middle distance, Edinburgh Castle at the right and the open-crown spire of St Giles’s Cathedral to the left. Another sketch above this shows the dome of St George’s Church in Charlotte Square (now the West Register House). Turner sketched the view several times in 1801 (Tate D02811–D02814, D02842, D02843, D02870, D02871, D02873, D02874, D02877, D02877, D02878, D02880, D02881; Turner Bequest LV 1–3, 33a, 23, 41a, 42, 43a, 44, 46a, 47, 48a, 49) and 1818 (see Tate D13699; Turner Bequest CLXVII 63a), and scattered throughout this sketchbook are a number of similar views (folios 9 verso, 37 verso, 38, 76 verso and 77 verso; D17525, D17567, D17568, D17641, D17643).

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

1
One is in the City of Edinburgh Art Collection, and the other is in the private collection of Bryan Oliphant, New York
2
Peter Stubbs, ‘Royal George’, EdinPhoto, accessed 9 September 2008, http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_a/0_around_edinburgh_-_firth_of_forth_-_royal_george_buttersworth.htm.

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