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Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVII 15

Catalogue entry

Across folios 14 verso and 15, and extending slightly onto folio 16 (D25953, D25954, D25956; CCLXVII 14a, 15, 16), is the sketch of Melrose from across the River Tweed that Turner used as the basis for his watercolour, Melrose 1831 (National Gallery of Scotland),1 engraved for part 6 of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works. As Robert Cadell, who accompanied Turner when he made the sketch, reported: ‘The View just taken was on the Drygrange road – at a small road leading to a farm house.’2 Gerald Finley points out, ‘it seems that Turner climbed down through a field in order to find the viewpoint for the study from which the finished watercolour was derived.’3 The sketch was therefore made just below the road from Gledswood Farm, on the north bank of Tweed just east of its confluence with the Leader Water. This is close to Bemersyde Hill where a point on the road to Dryburgh is known as Scott’s View, after one of Sir Walter’s favourite beauty spots.
Turner’s sketch, which was translated closely into watercolour therefore looks west towards Melrose with the abbey at the centre left of the present page. In the foreground is the confluence of the Tweed and the Leader Water, and Melrose Parish Church is right of centre with Melrose suspension bridge to the right of that. Turner also sketched the bridge when he returned in 1834 in the Edinburgh sketchbook: Tate D26191 (Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 49a). The view is continued on folio 14 verso where it is dominated by two of the peaks of the Eildon Hills. Turner also slid back the present page so that he could continue the view at the right on folio 16.
Turner first visited Melrose in 1797, and on 6 August 1831 (two days before he made the present drawing) he had passed the same spot with Sir Walter Scott and admired the view, asking Scott whether he desired him to paint it or some other view for the Lay of the Last Minstrel. Scott is reported to have replied that the choice was Turner’s.4 The artist was evidently very taken with this view; though he also took several sketches of the abbey at close quarters as an alternative composition (see folio 12; D25948; CCLXVII 12).

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.428 no.1080.
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Monday 8 August, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc. 5188, Box 1, folio 109; transcribed in Finley 1972, p.383.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.121.
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Saturday 6 August, folio 106 verso; transcribed in Finley 1972, p.380.
‘I am strongly inclined to [...] make two views of Melrose for the Lay.’ Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Monday 8 August, folio 109 verso, transcribed in Finley 1972, p.383.
Finley 1980, p.242.

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