Joseph Mallord William Turner

Clamshell Cave, Staffa


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 116 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 30

Catalogue entry

Although he made no mention of it in his letter to James Lenox which described his trip to Staffa,1 Turner seems to have visited the Clamshell Cave as well as the more famous Fingal’s Cave during his hour on the island of Staffa: see also folios 34 verso, 35 and 39 (D36806, D26807, D26815). Just to the south of the dramatic entrance to the cave is a curved ridge of columnar basalt that gives the appearance of the ribs of a ship or, in this sketch, a frozen wave. To the left of this ridge Turner has represented the mouth of the cave with a scribbled area of shading. To the left is a triangular rock called Am Buachaille (or the Herdsman’s Rock). The island in the distance at the left may be Iona. William Daniell published a similar view in his A Journey Round Great Britain (1814–25): Clam-Shell Cave, Staffa, Iona in the Distance, (aquatint, Tate T02793).
For references to further sketches of Staffa see folio 40 (D26817).
At the centre of the page is a red-brown mark. A looping pencil line seems to cut through the top of the mark, suggesting that it was already on the page before Turner drew the sketch.

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, pp.209–10 letter 288, Turner to James Lenox, 16 August 1845.

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