Joseph Mallord William Turner

Edinburgh, from Blackford Hill


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 7 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s drawing of Edinburgh from Blackford Hill (across the present page and folios 8, 11 and 13; D25940, D25946, D25950; CCLXVII 8, 11, 13) was made in preparation for a watercolour to be engraved for the frontispiece to Marmion, volume 7 of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: Edinburgh from Blackford Hill circa 1832 (whereabouts unknown).1 The choice of the subject was made early on, with Robert Cadell writing to Scott, ‘I have visited Blackford Hill early in the morning & am convinced that the view from it cannot be passed over’.2
The view was already familiar to Turner as he had made sketches of Edinburgh from the Braid Hills, which are just a little further to the south of Blackford, in 1818 (Tate D13402; Turner Bequest CLXV 45a). Those sketches were made in connection to illustrations for Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, although, in the event, Augustus Wall Callcott made the illustration.
Turner made this sketch on 15 August 1831 and was accompanied by the publisher of the Poetical Works, Robert Cadell, who wrote about the visit in his diary. The two had breakfasted together at Cadell’s Edinburgh office, and at about ten they set off in a carriage for the hill. Turner apparently struggled with the climb as he depicted himself at the bottom left of the watercolour being pulled up the hill by Cadell. They stayed for over an hour while Turner made this single, detailed drawing before descending.3
Turner’s drawing shows the view north towards Edinburgh and beyond to the Firth of Forth and the distant coast of Fife. Many buildings and landscapes can be made out in the detailed sketch, and others, drawn sketchily, can be made out with references to the engraving.
Beyond the fields and a few houses dotted around the foreground is the Blackford area of town. The most prominent landmark on the present page is Edinburgh Castle, which sits upon Castle Rock at the centre of the city. To its left are three churches: the dome of St George’s in Charlotte Square (now the West Register House), the tower of St John’s and the spire of St Cuthbert’s. Beyond this are the Firth of Forth and the coast of Fife, with the Grampian Mountains in the far distance. As it has been pointed out by Eric Shanes, the wide panorama of the sketch was compressed substantially to fit the details into the space of the engraving.4

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.428 no.1082.
Quoted in Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.85.
For an account of the day see Finley 1980, p.136.
Eric Shanes, Evelyn Joll, Ian Warrell et al., Turner: The Great Watercolours, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2000, p.187 under cat.78.

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