Joseph Mallord William Turner

Finlaggan Castle, Islay


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 125 x 201 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXX 70 a

Catalogue entry

It is perhaps surprising that Turner extended his steamboat tour of the southern islands of Argyll as far west as Islay, as the island was never considered by Sir Walter Scott or Robert Cadell to add to Turner’s itinerary of locations and subjects to illustrate for Scott’s Poetical Works. What is more John McCulloch, whose book The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, probably served as one of Turner’s guides, considered Islay to be ‘not very interesting to the traveller’.1 Turner, however, probably had his own reasons for visiting the island; having expressed a desire to see ‘Staffa Mull and all’,2 he was obviously keen to travel to the remoter islands. McCulloch, however, does mention one point of interest that was particularly pertinent to Turner. ‘Isla’, as he calls it, ‘was once the principal seat of the Lord of the Isles’,3 and the Steamboat Companion, Turner’s other guide and timetable, told him that Finlaggan on the island ‘is famous for being the place where the great McDonald’s, kings of the isles, held their courts.’4 Turner’s main object in the Western Isles was to collect subjects to illustrate volume 10 of Scott’s Poetical Works, The Lord of the Isles, and although the subject was not considered by Scott, who had never visited the island, its significance was not lost on Turner.5
Finlaggan, according to David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, was therefore Turner’s real object in reaching Islay.6 Despite the rather unimpressive ruins, Turner made a number of sketches of Finlaggan Castle, which sits on the island of Eilean Mòr on Loch Finlaggan. The artist found picturesque potential in the forlorn ruins surrounded by the loch, with the distinctive Paps of Jura in the distance: folios 39 verso, 52, 62 verso, 72, 73 verso and 83 verso (D26513, D26538, D26559, D26578, D26581, D26600).
There are two sketches of the castle on the current page. At the right is a view of Eilean Mòr and the ruins of the castle, with the gabled building at the right and the other remaining ruins at the left, indicating that this view is from the north-west.

Thomas Ardill
January 2010

John McCulloch, The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, vol.IV, 1824, p.421.
J.M.W. Turner to Sir Walter Scott, 20 April 1831, MS 3917, folios 270–270 verso, National Library of Scotland, Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, pp.84, 252 note 57.
McCulloch 1824, p.422.
James Lumsden and Son, Lumsden and Son’s Steamboat Companion; or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow 1839, p.134.
David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and Islay – 1831’, 1991, Tate catalogue files, folio 9.
Ibid., ‘checklist’ folio 5.

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