Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 186 × 116 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 29 a

Catalogue entry

With the sketchbook held so that the spine is at the top, this sketch depicts the inside of Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Though very roughly executed this sketch may have been the compositional basis of Turner watercolour, Fingal’s Cave, Staffa circa 1833–4 (whereabouts unknown),1 which was engraved for the Lord of the Isles volume of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works. While the sketch on the reverse of this page (folio 29; D26797) contains more of the visual detail of the watercolour (such as the basalt columns and rock ledges that make up the cave, and the shape of the cave mouth), that sketch was made from the left side of the cave, while this is from the right, as in the finished design. The details, however, are scribbled with great economy: vertical lines representing the columnar walls, diagonal lines for shading, and the tops and bottoms of dozens of broken columns represented with single jagged lines. There is one detail, however, in this sketch that is missing from the others. Turner has included the waves washing into the sea cave. In the watercolour these crash into the cave and become a dramatic element of the design. Turner made a very similar sketch to this on a loose sheet of light-grey paper: Tate D34001 (Turner Bequest CCCXLI a 284).
Other sketches of the interior of Fingal’s Cave are on folios 27 verso–29 verso and 30 verso (D26794–D26798, D26800). For references to further sketches of Staffa see folio 40 (D26817).

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

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

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