Joseph Mallord William Turner

George IV at the Provost’s Banquet in the Parliament House, Edinburgh


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 686 × 918 mm
frame: 970 × 1198 × 98 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Parliament Hall, part of Edinburgh’s old Parliament House, was used by the independent Scottish government until 1707. Beneath its dramatic hammer-beam roof, the king was offered a silver basin of rose-water during a banquet for three hundred. Sir Walter Scott’s son and nephew attended the bearer, while Yeomen of the Guard stood by. For Turner, sometimes criticised for his figure painting, to commence such a complex group portrait was hugely ambitious. The unfinished panel remains instead a hazy impression in crimson, white and gold. Its plunging perspective is mirrored in the companion view of St Giles’ Cathedral.

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.

248. [N02858] George IV at the Provost's Banquet in the Parliament House, Edinburgh c. 1822


Mahogany, 27 × 36 1/8 (68·5 × 91·8)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? 154, one of ‘3 each (ditto [panel])’ 3'0" × 2'3"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1929.

Exh. R.A. 1974–5 (308); Tate Gallery and Edinburgh 1981–2; on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery 1982–5.

Lit. Falk 1938, pp. 129–30; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 30, pl. 65; Reynolds 1969, p. 117, colour pl. 97; Finley 1975, p. 35, repr.p. 30 fig.20; Wilkinson 1975, p. 9, repr. in colour p. 10; Finley 1981, pp. 37–8, 43, pl. 16.

The last, unnumbered drawing in the series of designs connected with the royal visit to Edinburgh in 1822 seems to relate to this subject and there is also what seems to be a very rapid sketch of the scene, closer to this oil painting, in the ‘King's Visit to Scotland’ sketchbook (CC-22 verso). The Provost's Banquet was held in the Parliament House on 24 August 1822.

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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