Joseph Mallord William Turner

George IV at St Giles’s, Edinburgh


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 746 × 918 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

In 1822 George IV made the first state visit to Scotland since the Act of Union of 1707. The cathedral service shown here took place on Sunday 25 August, with the king under the canopy in the distance. The visit was choreographed with much tartan by the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott to promote both Scotland and British unity, and was witnessed by various artists. Turner was there, in the fruitless hope of securing the king’s patronage for a series of nineteen commemorative paintings, of which only two interiors and two sketchy seascapes survive.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

[from] Nos. 247–8b : George IV's Visit to Edinburgh, 1822 [N02857-N02858; N02879-N02880]

IN August 1822, the year after his coronation, George IV paid a two-week state visit to Edinburgh, the first by a British monarch since the Act of Union of 1707. The Royal Squadron arrived at Leith on 14 August and George IV landed the following day, staying at the Palace of Holyrood until 29 August. The visit was staged by Sir Walter Scott. A number of artists attended the occasion, including Turner, who seems to have been in Edinburgh as early as 7 August (he was definitely there by 14 August) and was presumably there until the end of the royal visit.

Gerald Finley has suggested that Turner planned a series of paintings covering this visit, to be engraved and probably in the hope of royal patronage.

Turner used two sketchbooks in Edinburgh, the ‘King's Visit to Scotland’ sketchbook (CC) and the ‘King at Edinburgh’ sketchbook (CCI), the latter containing a double-spread of nineteen rough composition sketches (p. 44 verso and inside back cover; both sketchbooks are repr. in full in Finley 1981); four of these can be linked with paintings in the Turner Bequest, two long identified with this visit (Nos. 247 [N02857] and 248 [N02858]), the other two only recently identified by Finley, a discovery reflected in the exhibition and accompanying book of Turner and George the Fourth in Edinburgh, 1822, 1981–2.

All four paintings are on panel, relatively unusual for Turner, two being approximately 2 1/2 inches higher than the others. It is uncertain how many pictures Turner would have completed had the scheme been fulfilled. It is also uncertain why the scheme was abandoned but the reason is hinted at in a letter of 3 December 1823 to J.C. Schetky. From this it appears that Schetky had offered Turner the use of one of his drawings of the Royal Barge, only roughly sketched by Turner during his visit, but, so Turner writes, ‘there is an end to that commission owing to the difficulty attending engraving the subjects’ (Gage loc. cit.). Turner had presumably abandoned work on the paintings by this time.

Lit. Finley 1975, pp. 27–35; Gage 1980, p. 90; Finley 1981.

247. [N02857] George IV at St Giles's, Edinburgh c. 1822


Mahogany, 29 11/16 × 36 1/8 (76 × 91·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? 149, one of ‘3 each (panel)’ 3'0" × 2'6"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1929.

Exh. George IV in Edinburgh 1822 Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, July–September 1961 (49), and on loan there until 1981; Tate Gallery and Edinburgh 1981–2.

Lit. Falk 1938, pp. 129–30; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 30; Finley 1975, p. 35, repr. p. 30 fig. 19; Finley 1981, pp. 35, 43, 49, 57, pl. 17.

George IV visited St Giles on 25 August. Of the nineteen composition sketches devoted to the royal visit that numbered ‘15’ seems to be for this subject, but this is a very rough sketch and the connection is not certain.

There are more closely related sketches of the interior of St Giles in the ‘King's Visit to Scotland’ sketchbook (CC-32 verso, 33, 33 verso (repr. Finley 1975 p. 31 fig. 24) and 34).

Finley (1975) describes Nos. 247 [N02857] and 248 [N02858] as ‘modelli’ but this example in particular is carried fairly far towards completion.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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