Joseph Mallord William Turner

High Street, Edinburgh


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXV 50 a

Catalogue entry

This view of the High Street in Edinburgh, looking towards St Giles’s Cathedral is very close to a more fully realised drawing of the scene across two pages in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (folios 67 verso–68; Tate D13701, D13702; Turner Bequest CLXVII 65a, 66), that formed the basis of Turner Edinburgh High Street, circa 1818 (watercolour, Yale Centre for British Art)1 for the third number of Scott’s Provincial Antiquities.
This view, however, is taken from closer to the Cathedral, and so crops the distinctive open-crown spire and the tops of the buildings that line the High Street. The composition is also – as in his Provincial Antiquities illustration – compressed horizontally so that it fits in the narrower, single-page format. It seems to have been Turner’s method during this tour of Scotland to make initial rapid sketches in this or the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook (Tate D13449–D13586; D40934–D40937; complete sketchbook; Turner Bequest CLXVI) and then carry out a more detailed and carefully composed drawing in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook, often across two pages, to form the basis of a finished watercolour. This is the method he has used with this subject. There are also sketches of Edinburgh High Street in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13695, D13708; Turner Bequest CLXVII 61a, 68).
This sketch, however, was utilised for Turner’s watercolour. Having drawn all the windows of the building on the right in this sketch, he did not feel the need to do so again in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13701; Turner Bequest CLXVII 64a), so must have referred to this drawing for that information. In fact, the windows depicted are of the building that is cropped out of the final design, as he did not draw the windows in the building next door; they were presumably similar enough to make it unnecessary. In this sketch Turner has also added two figures, one with a wheelbarrow, to suggest the bustling Lawnmarket that is depicted in the final design. There are further drawings of figures carrying goods and a barrow on the opposite page (folio 53; D13413; CLXV 51).

Thomas Ardill
November 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1061.
Johnson’s visit is described in James Grant, Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh: its History its People and its Places, London, Paris and New York, Vol.I, circa 1880s, p.97.
Ibid., p.99.

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