Joseph Mallord William Turner

Design for ‘Borthwick Castle’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 177 × 256 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXX 2

Catalogue entry

As Finberg noted,1 this sketch was the compositional design for Turner’s Borthwick Castle, 1818 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).2 The drawing was probably made in Turner’s studio, based on an on-the-spot sketch in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13724; Turner Bequest CLXVII 76), made on a visit to Scotland in October–November 1818. Turner also made another sketch from a slightly different angle which contributed to the final design (Tate D13723; Turner Bequest CLXVII 75a).
The view of both studies is from the north-west and shows the castle on a hill with the River Gore in front and two small cottages below it to the left. Trees are dotted around the landscape and the Lammermuir Hills are seen in the distance. The present study is drawn in less detail than either of these, with the castle drawn mainly in outline apart from details of the corbels and remains of the roof, and the rest of the landscape drawn carefully but rather faintly. Turner’s intension was to map out the composition of his final design as clearly as possible, leaving out details for which he could refer to the two Scotch Antiquities sketches.
By paying particular attention to D13724, Finberg, and hence subsequent writers, have neglected the significance of D13723, which perhaps played an equally important role in the compositional study. Indeed the overall layout, with the castle placed at the upper centre of the composition is closer to this latter sketch than the former which placed the castle slightly left of centre. The viewpoint of D13723 is also more similar to the present design, where we look directly towards the north-east corner, rather than coming round to the north as in D13724. The present design, however, finds a midpoint between the two views. Turner also took the liberty to pick and choose from each sketch, using the trees from D13724, but taking the cottages from D13723. One feature in the design, however, came from neither sketch – the small arched bridge at the bottom right. For this Turner may have referred to another sketch (D13725; Turner Bequest CLXVII 76a top sketch; and also D13727; CLXVII 77a). The bridge is not included in the Borthwick watercolour, which is otherwise very close to the composition of this design, though, as noted, must have drawn upon other sketches for architecture and other details. See also a similar view in the Edinburgh sketchbook (1818) (Tate D13503; Turner Bequest CLXVI 28).
Finberg, 1909, I, p.493, CLXX 2.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1060.
Edward Blore to Walter Scott, 25 January 1819, National Library of Scotland, MS 3890, folios 25–6 verso.
Katrina Thomson, Turner and Sir Walter Scott: The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999, p.100 cat.50.
Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, p.254.

Thomas Ardill
August 2009

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