Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of St Giles’s Cathedral: Study for ‘George IV at St Giles’s, Edinburgh’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 x 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 33 a

Catalogue entry

Turner was present when the King attended service at St Giles’s Cathedral on 25 August 1822, managing to get a ticket for the event along with artists, William Collins, David Wilkie and William Allan.1 As was frequently his approach for recording the ceremonial events of George IV’s visit to Scotland (see George IV’s Visit to Edinburgh 1822 Introduction) he combined direct observation of the event with a separate study of the location. His four pages of sketches at St Giles’s – two views of the interior (this page and folio 34; D17560) and two pages of architectural details (folios 32 verso and 33; D17557, D17558) – show the church without congregation. This suggests that Turner did not make drawings during the event, but witnessed the service, making a separate visit to St Giles’s to draw the space which he could later populate with characters from his memory and imagination when he came to making an oil painting of the subject: George IV at St Giles’s, Edinburgh, circa 1822 (Tate N02857).2 The composition of the oil is number ‘15’ in Turner ‘Royal Progress’ sequence (see King at Edinburgh sketchbook inside back cover; Tate D40980). Drawing during the service was probably prohibited, certainly frowned upon.
Turner’s presence at the service (and elsewhere) was recalled by Wilkie,3 and is attested by his lively and detailed painting of the subject, which nevertheless takes liberties with the facts, notably the crowded aisles which Mudie insists were ‘kept entirely clear’.4 Whether Turner made his sketches before or after the service is not known, and different accounts give conflicting statements.5 However, it would perhaps have been difficult for the artist to make these sketches which show the cathedral almost empty and would have required him to stand and sketch for some duration in several locations, during the morning of the service. John Prebble describes how on 25 August the church, which opened its doors at 7am, was full by 9 o’clock, over two hours before the King arrived, and that as the congregation left a christening service began,6 affording Turner little opportunity to draw that morning. Although it is possible that he could have visited the church before the day of the service (the King’s attendance was confirmed on 21 August),7 the few sketches that he made of the interior indicate, by the time clearly spent on them and their similarity in viewpoint to the resulting painting, that Turner had decided by the time he came to make them what his composition would be, suggesting that he had already witnessed the event.8 Furthermore, the combination of elements from both sketches in the resulting oil suggests that Turner may even at this early stage have conceived of the perspectival trickery that he was to employ in that work (see folio 34).

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.323.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.153 no.247.
Allan Cunningham, The Life of David Wilkie, London 1843, vol.II, pp.87–8.
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.245.
While Finley is cautious in his statement that Turner made his drawings ‘either before of after the service’, John Prebble suggests that Turner made them on an earlier occasion, writing that he ‘had visited the church several times’, and Katrina Thomson writes that they ‘were apparently drawn soon after Turner had observed the service’. Finley 1981, p.23; John Prebble 1988, p.323; Katrina Thomson, Turner and Sir Walter Scott: The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999, p.98.
Prebble 1988, pp.321, 325.
Mudie 1822, p.187.
Considering that Wilkie’s first idea of which part of occasion to paint – the King’s donation to the Poor’s Plate – was scuppered when at the last moment the plate was removed (Prebble 1988, p.323), Turner may appreciated that it was a waste of time to plan a composition like this before he actually saw the event.
Jane Grant, letter to her mother, 25 August 1822, quoted in Prebble 1988, p.321.
Prebble suggests that the King saw and disliked the work,; Prebble 1988, p.324; Finley 1981, pp.49, 57.
Prebble 1988, p.323.
Edinburgh Accounts of the Dean of Guile, quoted in Finley 1981, p.69 note 67.

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