Joseph Mallord William Turner

No.39 Castle Street, Edinburgh: Former Residence of Walter Scott


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIX 40 a

Catalogue entry

Gerald Finley identified this sketch as the on-the-spot study for Turner’s watercolour, No.39 Castle Street, Edinburgh circa 1836 (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York),1 which was engraved as the title vignette for volume IV of J.G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, 1839.2 Turner visited the former residence of Walter Scott, just of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh’s New Town, on 29 September 1834 in the company of Scott’s publisher Robert Cadell.3
Here we look south down Castle Street towards Edinburgh Castle which rises above the rooftops at the right of the page. Scott’s house is the building at the far left of the page with the semicircular bay to the right of the front door. The sketch is fairly detailed, the artist having taken the time to draw some of the stonework as well as the main architectural details. Turner has suggested the railing to the left of the door, though neglected to draw it to the right. When he came to paint his watercolour, he recalled this detail. In the watercolour there is a pediment above the bay window, a feature that is not in the sketch and is not now part of the building, suggesting that Turner either remembered or invented it. Another feature of the roof may be referred to in the inscription at the top of the page which seems to say, ‘Light some high’. It is interesting to note that at the centre of the sketch Turner has drawn an early gas lamp, though this does not appear in the watercolour or engraving.4 Further down the street Turner has paid less attention to the other buildings and drew only the outline of the castle, knowing that he could rely on many other sketches of the castle in this and the Edinburgh sketchbook: Tate D26218 (Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 63a). When he came to paint his watercolour, Turner had to sharpen the perspective of the street considerably to convert the landscape format sketch into a portrait format vignette. The building just to the right of number 39 is particularly squashed. Scott’s house still stands, though it has been converted to offices. Many of the buildings further down the street have since been rebuilt.

Thomas Ardill
November 2010

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.435 no.1141. Wilton refers to the house as ‘Sir Walter Scott’s birthplace’. In fact, Scott was born in 1771 at College Wynd in Edinburgh’s Old Town. After his marriage he had 39 Castle Street built for his new family, moving there in 1799. See Paul Barnaby, ‘Homes of Sir Walter Scott’, The Walter Scott Digital Archive, Edinburgh University Library, accessed 10 November 2010, <>.
Finley 1980, p.180.
Robert Cadell, Diary, 29 September 1834, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc.5188 Box 3, folio 40; Finley 1980, p.180.
An undated, but presumably early twentieth-century photograph of the street shows a street lamp of a later design, in the same position. B.C. Clayton, ‘Edinburgh, North Castle Street, General View from North’, photograph, ‘Edinburgh, North Castle Street, General’, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, accessed 9 November 2010, <>.

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