Joseph Mallord William Turner

Loch na Cuilce and Loch Coruisk from Sgurr na Stri


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 125 × 201 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXX 38 a

Catalogue entry

This is one of three views of Loch Coruisk on Skye from Sgurr na Stri, a mountain to the east of the loch; the other sketches are opposite on folio 39 (D26512) and on folio 75 verso (D26585). The present view looks directly west from the summit of the mountain, across the tiny Scavaig River (the outlet from Loch Coruisk which is hidden by the brow on the hill in the foreground) to the ridge of hills that make up the southern section of the Black Cuillin range. On the left is Loch na Cuilce, with the small island of Eilean Glas and the landing stage where Turner disembarked from the small boat that brought him up Loch Scavaig to the head of Loch Coruisk. Only the northern end of Loch Coruisk is visible at the right of the sketch.
Although Turner drew a more detailed sketch with more of the loch on folio 39, he actually utilised more of the present sketch for his watercolour of Loch Coriskin 1831 (The National Gallery of Scotland),1 which was prepared to be engraved to illustrate Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, as part of a new collected edition of his Poetical Works. As Gerald Finley has pointed out, Turner relied more on his memory of the place than on his sketches,2 but the bottom left of the present sketch was followed fairly closely for the left side of his watercolour composition which shows Loch na Cuilce and Meall na Cuilce (the rock to its north) which are both shown in this sketch. The mountains behind were re-imagined into a more triangular ridge that look as if they had been recently rent from the earth by the power of colliding tectonic plates, an effect that was probably inspired (as John Gage has pointed out) by a passage in the geologist John MacCulloch’s Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, which Scott may have pointed out to the artist. 3 As Gage put it, MacCulloch and Turner share the characteristics of ‘sublime scale and a precision of geological description’.4 The shape of this ridge of rock may also have derived from the memory of different views of the Cuillins from around Loch Coruisk. Although the shape is wrong or exaggerated as seen from Sgurr na Stri, it is quite close to Sgurr Alisdair as seen from the level of the loch.

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1088.
Finley 1980, p.137.
John MacCulloch, Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, 1824, vol.III, pp.474–84, quoted in John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, p.220.
Gage 1987, p.220.

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