Joseph Mallord William Turner

Heriot’s Hospital


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVII 86

Catalogue entry

This sketch formed the basis of Turner’s watercolour design of Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh, circa 1819 (National Gallery of Scotland),1 for the seventh number of the Provincial Antiquities. The view is taken from the West Bow – the crooked street that connects the Lawnmarket to the Grassmarket, and was the route to the gallows for condemned prisoners. The Grassmarket, home of Edinburgh’s poorer inhabitants and tinsmiths at this time, lies perpendicular to the West Bow and the sketch gives a sense of its colour and variety with the buildings of various styles and sizes lining the southern side of the street. Some of the buildings have been inscribed with the names of their businesses and these have been included in the watercolour, though they are much clearer in the engraving: ‘Bull Inn’ (which is still there) and ‘Dunno Salar’. There is a sketch of the north side of the Grassmarket on folio 65 verso of this sketchbook (D13697; CLXVII 62a).
A horse-drawn cart and a group of people around the West Bow Well in the centre of the street suggest the bustle which is fully brought out in the finished watercolour where there is a large crowd and several groups of people engaged in various activities. The school itself towers above this scene, its ornate symmetry contrasting with the disorder below. Turner made a detailed architectural sketch of the buildings in the Bass Rock and Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate D13446–D13447; Turner Bequest CLXV 67a–68), and he shows similar attention to detail in the present sketch. In the watercolour Heriot’s Hospital fades into a hazy mist, although it comes back into form in the engraving (Tate T04492).2
The watercolour incorporates, at the right, the drawing on the verso of this page (D13745; CLXVII 86a) which shows more of the buildings on the West Bow, including the English School. It also takes a step back from the view of the current sketch thereby showing more of the West Bow in the foreground. As no sketch of this exists Turner may have painted it from memory or invented it.

Thomas Ardill
March 2008

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1064.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908 and 1913, vol.I, p.110 no.195.

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