Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dryburgh Abbey


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVII 9

Catalogue entry

This sketch of Dryburgh Abbey, between Selkirk and Kelso in the Scottish Borders was made across this page and folio 8 verso (D25941; CCLXVII 8a) with the sketchbook inverted. It has been recognised as the basis for Turner’s watercolour design for the frontispiece to volume 5 of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: Dryburgh Abbey circa 1832 (watercolour, Tate N05241).1 While the composition of the watercolour is closest to the present drawing, it has been argued that elements of two further sketches have been incorporated, making this a synthesis of the three sketches (folios 68 verso–70; D2049–D26051; CCLXVII 70a–72).2 However, those other two sketches are not from the south. The watercolour is therefore based on the present sketch, and on a sketch on folio 69 verso (D26051; CCLXVII 71a) which shows a close-up sketch of the abbey from the south.
The view is from across the Tweed near St Boswells, and reveals the U-shaped twist in the river at this point so that the abbey is surrounded by water on three sides. The abbey is at the middle of folio 9 with the window of the south transept and parts of the choir being the most complete part of the ruin. The twin peaks of the Eildon Hills are shown in the distance at the left, and across the inner edge of the two pages is the hill near Bemerside where the statue of William Wallace stands commissioned by the eleventh Earl of Buchan; this can be seen on folio 9 verso (D25943; CCLXVII 9a).
The position of the abbey, hills and river in the watercolour are taken from this sketch, but the details of the abbey are from folios 9 verso, and 71 verso. There is a view of the same twist in the Tweed, though seen from a higher vantage point, on folio 1 verso (D25930; CCLXVII 1a), and there are close-up studies of the abbey on folios 71 to 73 verso (D26050–D26059; CCLXVII 73–75a).
This was Turner’s second visit to Dryburgh, following his first in 1797 (see Tate D00929 and D00971; Turner Bequest XXXIV 23 and 62). This time he was accompanied by Robert Cadell, Archibald Todd of Drygrange and his two sons Alick and Jamey. Cadell recorded in his diary that Turner made ‘a good many views of the abbey’ from nearby and ‘various Sketches from [the] Southern side of the River.’3

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.428 no.1078.
Anne Lyles, Turner: The Fifth Decade: Watercolours 1830–1840, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.44.
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, folio 108 verso–109, 8 August 1831, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc.5188, Box 1; quoted in Gerald E. Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner and Sir Walter Scott: Iconography of a Tour’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.31, 1972, p.382.

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