Joseph Mallord William Turner

Melrose Abbey


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 111 × 181 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 53

Catalogue entry

This quite rapidly executed sketch is of Melrose Abbey from the east. It therefore looks towards the large east window with the remains of the tower above, the relatively intact south transept at the left and the more ruinous north transept at the right. To the left of the sketch is the spire of Melrose Parish Church, and to the right are the hills to the north of the River Tweed. At the top of the page is a sketch of nearby hills.
This is the only view of the abbey in this sketchbook, though Turner had made numerous sketches in the Abbotsford sketchbook during a visit on 8 August 1831, in preparation for an illustration to Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: see Tate D25946 (Turner Bequest CCLXVII 11). In 1834 Turner was collecting subjects for illustrations to Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels and may have had Melrose in mind for an illustration to The Monastery, 1820.1

Thomas Ardill
January 2011

Melrose Abbey had by 1834 already been illustrated by James Skene for his A Series of Sketches of the Existing Localities alluded to in the Waverley Novels Etched from Original Drawings, Edinburgh 1830, facing p.142, and engraved by William Finden after David Roberts for Charles Tilt, Landscape Illustrations of the Waverley Novels, with Descriptions of the Views, vol.II, London 1832, facing p.45 ‘Cross of Melrose’. When Turner pulled out of the commission to illustrate the ‘Abbotsford edition’ of the Waverley Novels, Robert Cadell employed Clarkson Stanfield instead whose ‘Melrose Abbey, from the Quarry’ was engraved by Robert Brandard as the frontispiece to the fifth volume illustrating The Monastery: Sir Walter Scott, Waverley Novels [Abbotsford Edition], vol.V, Edinburgh 1844.

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