Joseph Mallord William Turner

Linlithgow Palace and St Michael’s Church


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 247 × 388 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 203

Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes noted Ian Warrell’s unpublished identification of this slight but fairly precise colour study as showing Linlithgow Palace, based largely on a pencil drawing in the 1818 Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13660–D13661; Turner Bequest CLXVII 43a–44).1 As Thomas Ardill describes in his entries for the sketch, it shows the ruined palace from the south-east, with St Michael’s Parish Church in the foreground, only represented by a detail of one buttress, as the church had been recorded separately from a similar angle (Tate D13656–D13657; Turner Bequest CLXVII 41a–42).
The articulation of the castle’s façade, otherwise reserved as blank white paper, is limited to the cast shadows of the corbelling below the roofline. The angle of the bright sunlight against the east side of the castle and the various south-facing elements in shadow (experimentally alternating between warm brown and cool blue) would indicate an early morning in summer. Given the relatively dark bulk of the church, Turner perhaps intended to represent it in repoussoir shadow, cast by cloud or the trees which crowd in from the right in the original drawing.
In the event, as he established a working design to be engraved for Walter Scott’s Provincial Antiquities of Scotland (see the Introduction to this section), in September 1821 Turner abandoned this scheme for a completely different one showing the castle in the distance at evening, as discussed in the entry for another colour study (Tate D25316; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 194). He may have decided that a low-angled view, although impressive, would be too similar to that adopted for Roslyn Castle (Indianapolis Museum of Art), possibly already completed,2 and engraved in 1823 (Tate impressions: T04493, T06062). Turner did not return to Linlithgow, but his recollection of this potential composition may have influenced his choice of viewpoint (albeit from another direction) in the vignette watercolour Linlithgow of about 1833 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London),3 engraved for Scott’s Prose Works in 1836 (Tate impression: T04755).
See Shanes 1997, pp.28, 101; see also Thomson 1999, p.88.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1065, as c.1823, reproduced, on the basis of a supposed watermark of that year; but see Martin F. Krause, Turner in Indianapolis: The Pantzer Collection of Drawings and Watercolors by J.M.W. Turner and his Contemporaries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis 1997, p.137 no.39, as c.1820, reproduced in colour, with the watermark given as 1819.
Wilton 1979, p.433 no.1125, reproduced.
Thomson 1999, p.88.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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