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 34

Catalogue entry

This is the second view of the interior of St Giles’s Cathedral, made in connection to the service on 25 August 1822 attended by King George IV. It was made, with the sketchbook inverted, from the north aisle of the church from a point close to the pulpit which is shown at the left of the picture. From the space between two arches, we look across the nave to the south aisle and towards the royal pew which is positioned above the nave at the gallery level. We can also see west down the north aisle at the right of the picture, and at the top left is shown one of the windows at the clerestory level and more of the nave’s fan vaulting than is visible in the other drawing of the interior of St Giles’s on folio 33 verso (D17559). That sketch may be more highly detailed and finished than this, but the present drawing is in fact closer to the composition that Turner selected for his painting of George IV at St Giles, Edinburgh, circa 1822 (Tate N02857);1 although both drawings (and both viewpoints) were utilised for that work (the pulpit in the painting is shown as in folio 33 verso).
With its main architectural elements indicated by single lines, the drawing has a diagrammatic character. Turner’s reason for this was no doubt to some extent time-saving. However, he may have had an additional motive to create a diagram that would serve as a perspective plan for his composition. Three columns are thus reduced to six vertical lines, bisected by a perpendicular line for the gallery. The gothic arches and fan vaulting above are shown by carefully curved lines and the tops of the pews become a grid receding towards an imagined vanishing point just to the right of the centre of the page. The emphasis that these simplified architectural elements give to linear perspective in the picture, suggests that Turner may already, to some extent, have conceived of the complex multi-point linear perspective of George IV at St Giles’s.
Already the composition recalls the structure of Turner’s 1820 painting, Rome from the Vatican. Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia, 1820 (Tate N00503); which has been likened by Maurice Davies to the composition of the final version in oil.2 The distortions here are less extreme, but the arch through which most of the scene is viewed does appear to have been opened up as in Rome from the Vatican, and the horizontal extent of the composition is too expansive for a single point of view. Turner must have turned his head to the left to see the pulpit and to the right to see along the north aisle. (A similar compression of horizontal distance is evident in the folio 33 verso drawing.) This distortion becomes apparent when one considers the line of the railing at the bottom of the picture: if the drawing of the railing were to continue to the right as one would imagine – joining onto the side of the front pew – it would have to bend upwards considerably to reach the next column to the right. To make his folding of space less obvious Turner omitted the railing in the final design.

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Butlin and Joll 1984, p.153 no.247.
Maurice Davies, Turner as Professor: The Artist and Linear Perspective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.90–1.

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