Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa

1831

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 116 x 186 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D26794
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 27 a

Catalogue entry

The sketch drawn at the bottom of this page and continuing on folio 28 (D26795) begins a sequence of sketches of the interior of Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Further views are on folios 28 verso–30 verso (D26796–D26800). Turner visited Staffa to make these sketches in preparation for a watercolour of the cave to be engraved as a vignette to illustrate the Lord of the Isles volume of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: Fingal’s Cave, Staffa circa 1833–4 (whereabouts unknown).1 Folios 29 and 29 verso come closer to the composition of the watercolour than the present sketch, though Turner probably referred to all of his sketches of the cave to recreate the look and structure of the basalt columns, relying on his memory to piece them together.
The current sketch was made from just a little way into the cave and looks out of the cave mouth which is left blank at the centre of the page. Although the sketch is quite hastily executed, Turner’s quick lines, loops and squiggles accurately demonstrate the appearance and structure of the interior of the cave. The broken columns projecting from the ceiling at the top left are close to those at the top right of the finished design, and the ledge of columns at the bottom left (folio 28) could have influenced the same detail in the watercolour, although they were moved to the right.
For a full list of Turner’s sketches of the Isle of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, see folio 40 (D26817).
The sketch at the top of the page may be of Loch Leven, and therefore associated with sketches that Turner made later in his tour (see folio 2; D26750).

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

1
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1089.

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