Joseph Mallord William Turner

Glasgow Cathedral and the Bridge of Sighs


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIX 73 a

Catalogue entry

This is Turner’s final, and most finished drawing that he made of Glasgow in 1834. It depicts the cathedral with the Bridge of Sighs in the foreground as seen from Molendinar Burn to the south-east. The bridge, constructed in 1833, still stands although the burn has been covered by a culvert and Wishart Street now runs along its path. Turner therefore stood on the western side of the burn near the Necropolis to make this sketch.
The main subject of this sketch is the cathedral which is here dominated by its central tower and spire. Turner seems to have underestimated the amount of space he would need to draw this, and so, having run out of space at the top of the page, has had to draw the spire again separately to the right. Another study to the right of this shows the top of the spire in more detail. At the left of the building (the west end) is another, lower tower and steeple which no longer stands. The cathedral is depicted in considerable detail, especially notable in the spire, the window of the southern transept, and the buttresses at the lower level. Turner did economise a little in the sketch, however, drawing only the first three sets of windows along the nave at the left, and the first few along the choir to the right of the tower. Behind the cathedral to the left is part of the Royal Infirmary, which is recognisable by its dome.
As David Wallace-Hadrill has pointed out,1 the cathedral, Molendinar Burn and what was to become the Necropolis are all described in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Rob Roy (1817):
Situated in a populous and considerable town, this ancient and massive pile has the appearance of the most sequestered solitude. High walls divide it from the buildings of the city on one side; on the other, it is bounded by a ravine, at the bottom of which, and invisible to the eye, murmurs a wandering rivulet, adding, by its gentle noise, to the imposing solemnity of the scene. On the opposite side of the ravine rises a steep bank, covered with fir-trees closely planted, whose dusky shade extends itself over the cemetery with an appropriate and gloomy effect.2

Thomas Ardill
October 2010

David Wallace-Hadrill, [CCLXIX Checklist], [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, unpaginated MS.
Walter Scott, Rob Roy, Edinburgh 1817, chapter 21.
Although Turner did not complete any designs for Robert Cadell’s ‘Abbotsford edition’ of the Waverley Novels, the Rob Roy edition was nevertheless illustrated with an engraving of Glasgow Cathedral by John Horsburgh after Clarkson Stanfield (Turner’s replacement after the pulled out of the commission). Walter Scott, Waverley Novels [Abbotsford edition], vol.3, Edinburgh 1843, frontispiece.

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