Joseph Mallord William Turner

New Abbey, near Dumfries


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVI 46

Catalogue entry

Sketches of New Abbey, also called Sweetheart Abbey, were the first that Turner made after crossing the Scottish Border in 1831 at some time between 28 July (when he was in Penrith) and 2 August (when he travelled to Longholm).1 New Abbey had been suggested as an illustration to one of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border volumes of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works, but was later rejected by Scott;2 Turner may not have known this until after he had made these sketches.
Turner did, however, get the opportunity to illustrate New Abbey, but for the Prose Works: New Abbey, Near Dumfries circa 1833 (watercolour, private collection).3 This appeared as the vignette illustration to volume 7, The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, a work that had originally been published in ten parts with illustrations by Turner and other artists (see 1818 Scottish Tour Introduction). New Abbey was not discussed in the work, though as Gerald Finley has pointed out, it had a ‘general relevance’ to the theme of ‘The Border Antiquities’, the title of the introductory essay.4
The present sketch, a view from the north-west made with the book inverted, was the one that Turner based his vignette design upon, changing little in the final design except adding a tree in front of the castle and making more of New Abbey Pow – the river that is only vaguely hinted at below the abbey. While topographically sparse, the sketch is rich in architectural detail, such as the trefoil in the west gable with the rose window beneath, and the crow-step gables of the tower.
Turner filled eight pages of this sketchbook with studies of New Abbey (folios 45 verso–49; D25850–D25857), with another detailed exterior view on folio 47 verso, and two interior views on folio 46 verso and 47. The sequence reveals that Turner took a circuit of the castle, drawing it from all sides from both far and near.

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.93.
Finley 1980, pp.240–41.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.430 no.1098.
Finley 1980, pp.203, 206–7.

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