Joseph Mallord William Turner

Cliff Edge Below Tantallon Castle


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXV 10

Catalogue entry

This sketch of a cliff-edge on the East Lothian coast was probably made from a small boat that Turner took to sketch the Bass Rock (see the introduction to this sketchbook). It may show the cliff-face below Tantallon Castle, although there are too few architectural details to be certain. Turner made numerous sketches of Tantallon in preparation for his illustration to the Provincial Antiquities: Tantallon Castle, 1821 (Manchester City Art Galleries),1 and this sketch should be compared with one from the opposite side (folio 6 verso; D13332; CLXV 6a). In his watercolour Turner emphasised the castle’s relationship to the sea which surrounded it on three sides. By sailing around it and sketching it from all sides, Turner could not only experiment with different viewpoints, but also learn about the building’s relationship to its topography and environment, especially with the, at times (as in the watercolour), tempestuous sea. Although the sea is not shown in this sketch, the steep cliffs, their height emphasised by the close viewpoint from below, capture something of the grandeur and violence of nature that is treated so dramatically in the stormy scene of the watercolour.

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1067.

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