Joseph Mallord William Turner

George IV’s Departure from the ‘Royal George’, 1822


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 752 × 921 mm
frame: 980 × 1145 × 95 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This was painted on a very thick, high-quality artists’ hardwood panel which (unusually) lacks a suppliers label on the reverse. Turner used the panel as a sketching board, and could have accidentally soaked off any label as he worked. He glued down heavy paper along all four edges, painted on the restrained paper (which could be soaked with water, brushed and scratched vigorously, and left to dry before repeating these processes, or even dried near a fire indoors), and later loosened it with a knife, then tore it off roughly.

The board was used several times. When it was upright, the paper was a half-sheet of the larger sheet that had previously almost filled the board. Traces of watercolour paint in many colours, blobs of animal glue, and knife and tear marks in the remaining paper, form the evidence for this alternative use. No other Turner sketching board has survived.

Paint surfaces:

The panel may have been supplied with the slightly offwhite priming visible in many places. Initial thinned washes of coloured oil paint were strengthened with less-thinned paint applied with a broad, stiff brush that left its mark on the surface. More brush-strokes in the foreground than the background economically and rapidly created a sense of distance.

Clouds were applied over the bare priming with a broad, soft-haired brush and white paint: their warm yellowness is an effect of the paint medium. This was probably megilp, a gel-like material made from leaded linseed oil and mastic resin varnish, which could form both soft impasto and thin but continuous glossy paint films, and which was always yellow in tone. In thicker applications, the yellowness and the cracks that readily form as megilp dries can be obvious. Here it was used thinly, and over paint less rich in medium. This is the classically correct way to create durable paint surfaces – though Turner frequently broke this ‘rule’ and thereby promoted cracking and paint loss.

Gallery label, February 2010

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

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.

248b. [N02880] George IV's Departure from the ‘Royal George’ c. 1822


Mahogany, 29 5/8 × 36 3/16 (75 × 92)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (151, one of ‘3 each (panel)’ 3'0" × 2'6"; identified by chalk number on back); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exh. On loan to the Ulster Museum 1964–9; Tate Gallery and Edinburgh 1981–2.

Lit. MacColl 1920, p. 42; Gage 1980, p. 90; Finley 1981, pp. 32–3, 43, 49, pl. 15.

The subject, as has been suggested by Gerald Finley, seems to show George IV setting out from the Royal George on the Royal Barge on 15 August 1822 before landing at Leith, the subject of No. ‘2’ of the series of small composition sketches. The composition also seems to be based on a drawing in the ‘King at Edinburgh’ sketchbook (CCI-1), with the bulk of the Royal George seen end on on the right. It was presumably for this painting that Turner needed J.C. Schetky's sketch of the Royal Barge. MacColl had related this oil to a watercolour sketch in the Turner Bequest (CCLXIII-384, repr. exh. cat., R.A. 1974–5, p. 97 no. 255) but it is not particularly close.

In the first edition of this catalogue this painting appeared as No. 278, ‘Shipping with a Flag’, and was dated ‘c. 1825–30?’.

There are small losses to the panel lower left 1/4 × 5 (0·75 × 12·5), and lower right 1/8 × 3/4 (0·25 × 2).

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

You might like

In the shop