Joseph Mallord William Turner

Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 86 × 140 mm
Bequeathed by R.H. Williamson 1938

Display caption

This highly compressed but intricately detailed and densely populated view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill was made as an illustration for Fisher's 'Illustrations to the Waverley Novels', 1836-7. Turner based it on material gathered during earlier visits to Scotland, particularly those in 1801 and 1822. Walter Scott, the author of the 'Waverley Novels', complained of Turner's tendency to include 'highlanders in every Scottish scene'.

Gallery label, June 1993

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Catalogue entry

Thomas Higham after J.M.W. Turner, Edinburgh – March of the Highlanders, published 1836, Engraving on paper (Tate T06274)
?John Morley, sold at Christie’s, 16 May 1896 (23).
Bought by McLean.
Humphrey Roberts, sold at Christie’s, 23 May 1908 (293).
Bought by Leggatt.
R.H. Williamson.
Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders is a small watercolour painted by Turner around 1834–5 and engraved by Thomas Higham as an illustration to G.N. Wright’s Landscape – Historic Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverly Novels, which was published by Fisher and Co. in 1836.1 The picture is used as an illustration to Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, and is accompanied in Fisher’s publication with a passage from that novel, describing the mustering of an army of Highlanders during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 as witnessed by the eponymous protagonist Waverley:
When Waverley had surmounted a small craggy eminence, called St Leonard’s Hill, the King’s Park, or the hollow between the mountain of Arthur’s Seat and the rising grounds on which the southern part of Edinburgh is now built, lay beneath him, and displayed a singular and animating prospect. It was occupied by the army of Highlander’s preparing for their march.2
Rather than the plane between Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh, Turner set his scene on Calton Hill just to the north of the place described in Scott’s novel. A gathering of tartan-clad Highlanders cover the hill and fill the foreground of this view west over Edinburgh with the castle looming above the city. The artist has set the scene in his own age with the North Bridge in the middle-distance and the modern buildings of the New Town at the right.
Similarities between the passage from Waverley quoted by Fisher and the painting suggest that the artist was familiar with the text and drew on it to inform his design. Scott’s writing is at times so pictorial that it could almost be a description of the illustration, rather than the other way round:
While getting into order, they exhibited a changing, fluctuating, confused appearance of waving tartans and floating plumes, and of banners displaying the proud gathering-word of each clan. At length the mixed and wavering multitude arranged themselves into a narrow and dusky column of great length, stretching through the whole extent of the vale.3
Wilton 1979, p.434 no.1134; Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, p.298 no.560.
Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, 1814, Chapter 44 The March, quoted in G[eorge] N[ewenham] Wright, Landscape – Historic Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverly Novels, London 1936, p.11.
Ibid., p.12.
Gerald Finley, Turner and George the Fourth in Edinburgh 1822, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1981.
Ibid., p.37.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.104.
Stuart Kelly, Scott-land: The Man who Invented a Nation, Edinburgh 2010.
Wilton 1979, p.426 no.1062.

Thomas Ardill
June 2011

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