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With the sketchbook turned to the left, Turner made sketches of the Yorkshire coast as he returned from Edinburgh by boat. There are similar sketches at the front of this sketchbook made on his outward journey (folios 3 verso and 4 verso; D17513, D17515). (For more information on Turner’s sea journey south see folio 78 verso; D17645).
Just before his boat reached Whitby, Turner made two sketches of the coastline to the north of the town. The second-from-bottom sketch may be of ‘Musgrave Cliffs’, a stretch of bays and headlands running for four or five miles just north of Whitby. The second sketch down may be of the cliffs at the west side of Runswick Bay (see folio 4 verso).
There are three sketches of Whitby on this page, The first, inscribed with the name of the town, is the sixth drawing down and gives prominence to the cliffs on which the town and St Hilda’s Abbey sit, and to the crags beneath them. The crags are also shown in the other two views of Whitby on this page: the seventh and bottom sketches. Turner also made two small but carefully executed studies of the abbey and St Mary’s Church, making up for the lack of detail in the coastal studies. Writers have tended to regard the three Whitby sketches on the present page as the foundation for Turner’s watercolour, Whitby, 1824 (Tate D18143; Turner Bequest CCVIII J).1 While these may have informed the picture, the sketch on folio 83 verso is in fact closer to the final composition. There are further sketches of Whitby on folio 87 (D17662).
Five miles further down the coast from Whitby is Robin Hood’s Bay, a fishing village that Turner also sketched on his journey north (folio 3 verso). On the present page are two sketches inscribed ‘Robin’. The fourth sketch down shows the bay and the stretch of coast to the north (right) up to Ness Point. The town itself is indicated by several box-shapes, shorthand that Turner used on his previous sketch of the town (folio 3 verso). The sketch below shows the steep cliffs above the bay.
Eric Shanes has suggested the picture was a ‘synthesis’ of several sketches; Eric Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London 1981, p.152.