Joseph Mallord William Turner

Town on the Coast, ?Prestonpans and Cockenzie


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 111 x 181 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 83 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn across the top and bottom of the page (the latter with the sketchbook inverted) are two rather indistinct views of a coastal town. While there is little architectural or topographical evidence to go on in these sketches, their position in the Edinburgh sketchbook suggests that they are linked to Turner’s visit to the village of Prestonpans in East Lothian on 30 September 1834 (see folio 86; D26256). Turner visited the village with Robert Cadell to see sites associated with Sir Walter Scott, including the house he lived at for a short time as a child, and the battlefield of the 1734 Battle of Prestonpans, which features in Scott’s novel, Waverley.
Cadell reported in his diary that he and the artist ‘walked to Rigginhead [sic. Riggonhead] when T[urner] drew the plain’.1 This sketch of the battlefield has not been identified with any certainty, but it is possible that the sketches on this page and folio 84 (D26253), which appear in the sketchbook between views of Prestonpans, were made at this time. A slight rise at Riggonhead to the east of Meadow Mill provides a good view north towards Cockenzie and Port Seaton at the top of the page and, at the bottom of the page, a view west across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh with the outline of the hill, Arthur’s Seat. There is a similar view on folio 84. The battlefield itself is nothing more than a flat field, so Turner has neglected to draw it in the foreground of either sketch.

Thomas Ardill
November 2010

Robert Cadell, Diary, 30 September 1834, MS Acc.5188, Box 3; Finley 1980, pp.181 258 note 41.

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