Joseph Mallord William Turner

High Street, Looking West, with Tron Kirk and St Giles’s


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 61 a

Catalogue entry

Looking west along the High Street in Edinburgh, from the meeting point of North and South Bridges, this sketch shows the seventeenth-century Tron Kirk with St Giles’s Cathedral in the distance and a crowd of people around the well head in the centre of the road. The view has changed little since 1818, apart from the removal of the well head which blocks the centre of the road (although there are still similar looking well heads on the High Street), and the replacement of Tron Kirk’s steeple after it was destroyed by fire in 1824. Instead of the small wooden spire, which Turner has had to drawn to the left of the church having run out of room at the top of the page, it was replaced in 1828 by a slender but imposing gothic spike. The body of the church exterior, however, remains largely unchanged.
Finberg made no reference to this church in his title for the picture, and it is generally not mentioned that the steeple is visible in Turner’s High Street, Edinburgh, 1818 (watercolour, Yale Center for British Art, USA),1 and its preparatory sketch on folio 67 verso of this sketchbook (D13701; CLXVII 64a). The church is now used as the Edinburgh Old Town Information Centre. The rows of buildings behind it and to the right have also survived, though the steps have been removed at the right.
Turner has added local colour by drawing a crowd of women queuing to collect water from the well head. There are several jugs and pales by the feet of the nearest figures, and a figure at the reins of a horse and cart may also be collecting water. Similar activity takes place in the background of Turner’s sketch of the High Street looking east from the other end (folio 67 verso), and there are jugs and pales in the foreground of the High Street, Edinburgh watercolour.

Thomas Ardill
March 2008

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1061.

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