after Joseph Mallord William Turner

Bass Rock, engraved by William Miller


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
After Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Engraving on paper
Image: 171 × 254 mm
Purchased 1986

Catalogue entry

[from] Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland pub.1819–26 [T04485-T04501; complete]

Seventeen etchings and line-engravings, in various states, comprising nine subjects out of a total of twelve; various papers and sizes; some annotated in pencil with names or initials of collectors or bearing collector's stamp
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: ...; N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd, from whom bt by Tate Gallery (earlier provenance given in individual entries where known)
Lit: Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, 1980; Turner in Scotland, exh. cat., Aberdeen Art Gallery 1982

In 1818 Turner received a commission for a series of plates showing Scottish locations which were to be accompanied by a text by Sir Walter Scott, who had proposed the project. The venture was to be financed by shareholders who, besides Turner, included other illustrators of the work - Edward Blore and Scott's friend, the amateur landscape painter, the Revd John Thomson of Duddingston - as well as the engravers George Cooke, Henry Le Keux and William Lizars. The original contract for Provincial Antiquities survives in the National Library of Scotland (MS 3134, no.172, 1818). The series was published by Rodwell and Martin of New Bond Street, London and was originally intended to contain sixty-five plates in twelve parts. In 1823, however, after poor financial returns, it was decided to limit Provincial Antiquities to ten paper-bound parts, comprising five plates each, with illustrations by other prominent artists including A.W. Callcott and Alexander Nasmyth in addition to Turner, Blore and Thomson. The plates were priced at £15 for proofs on India paper, Imperial Quarto, and £8 for Prints, Royal Quarto. Rodwell and Martin sold their share to John and Arthur Arch of Cornhill, who in 1826, in conjunction with the Edinburgh publishers William Blackwood, issued the work in two volumes. These contained ten subjects plus two title-page vignettes by Turner. Although Rawlinson (I 1908, p.107) states that the project was very successful, the evidence from correspondence and documents in the National Library of Scotland shows that the series was in fact a commercial failure.

According to the original contract, Turner was to receive a sum ‘not exceeding Twenty five Guineas if taken on the spot and twenty Guineas if made from sketches’, considerably more than the ten guineas allocated to the other shareholder-illustrators, Blore and Thomson, for their drawings. Although the fee reflected Turner's superior ability and reputation, it was arrived at only through hard bargaining by the artist. Scott was reported to have remarked that ‘Turner's palm is as itchy as his fingers are ingenious and he will ... do nothing without cash, and any thing for it’ (National Library of Scotland, MS 965, f.62, 30 April 1819).

Turner made a special journey to Scotland in the autumn of 1818 to collect material for the work, sketching mostly in Edinburgh with brief excursions into the surrounding countryside, the subjects having been selected for him by Scott. Since Turner was only there for two weeks, he did not necessarily make Scott's acquaintance on this occasion. A second trip in 1822, when Turner followed George IV's tour of Scotland, provided the artist with material for the two commemorative title-page vignettes of c.1825. Eight of Turner's ten other subjects were mounted together and kept by Scott at Abbotsford.

After the completion of the project, the copper-plates and remaining prints for Provincial Antiquities were sold to the engraver and publisher W.B. Cooke, from whom they were purchased by Charles Tilt, the printseller and publisher. Tilt had been unable to persuade Turner to provide illustrations for his forthcoming schemes but proceeded, without the artist's permission, to have three small replicas engraved after Turner's plates for Provincial Antiquities (Rawlinson II 1913, nos.557–9). These were published in Tilt's Illustrations to Scott's Poetical Works in 1834. Turner's annoyance at what he saw as the use of his name to sell Tilt's publication, and without his own involvement in the production of the plates to ensure a high standard, resulted in the case being brought before the Lord Mayor of London (see Finley 1980, Appendix 1).

All the engravers employed to translate Turner's designs had worked with the artist on previous projects such as Cooke's Southern Coast (see T04370-T04427) or Views in Sussex (T04428-T04438, T05078) and Whitaker's History of Richmondshire (T04439-T04484). The engravers for Provincial Antiquities were George Cooke (1781–1834), Henry Le Keux (1787–1868), Robert Wallis (1794–1878), William R. Smith (active 1820s–1850s), James C. Allen (active 1821–33), Edward Goodall (1795–1870) and William Miller (1796–1882). Rawlinson does not list any of the open etchings for this series, although these are sometimes confusingly referred to by him as early engraver's proofs. Most of the impressions in this group are recorded as having belonged to collectors, notably John Edward Taylor (1830–1905), an important collector of Turner material, particularly watercolours, a large proportion of which he donated to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. After the death of his wife, his collection was sold at Christie's. The sale of engravings took place on 15 and 16 July 1912 and several of the impressions in this group are stamped ‘J.E. Taylor Collection. 15.7.12 A,W,’, although they must in fact have been included in the following day's sale among the miscellaneous lots of line-engravings. Lots 254 and 255 (which contained ‘Scott's Works’) are recorded as being bought by A.C. Wallis, who presumably stamped the impressions he acquired. It seems probable that he was a descendant of the engraver Robert Wallis (see T04617). All but one (T04497) of the Wallis plates in this group bear the initials, ‘GBS’ (Lugt 1140), of the surgeon and collector Guy Bellingham Smith (1865–1945), who may have purchased his prints directly from A.C. Wallis.

T04501 Bass Rock engr. W. Miller

Line-engraving 171 × 254 (6 3/4 × 10) on wove paper (trimmed to image) attached to India paper laid on wove paper 343 × 508 (13 1/2 × 20); plate-mark 246 × 310 (9 11/16 × 12 3/16)
Inscribed in pencil in an unidentified hand below image b.r. ‘(False Proof)’
Exh: Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, Tate Gallery, Jan–May 1991 (6, repr.)
Lit: As for T04499 but later state? (not listed by Rawlinson)

This print is indeed a later ‘false proof’, as an inscription in the margin claims. It has been cleverly assembled so as to give the impression of being an India proof before lettering, perhaps one made prior to the earliest engraver's proof, after the open etching. However, on close examination, it can be seen that the actual print has been cropped to the edge of the image and has been placed on India paper which in turn has been laid on wove paper; the three components must have been dampened and run through the press with a blank plate, in order that they might adhere together and produce a plate-mark. This is verified by the indentation around the image itself, caused by the pressure of the press. Even without perceiving that the image was attached to the paper as described above, an observant collector might have discerned that this was a ‘false proof’, as the plate-mark is considerably smaller than those of the engraver's proofs, indicating that this impression must be later.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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