Joseph Mallord William Turner

Part of the Ceremony of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 22 a

Catalogue entry

This slight and rapidly executed sketch, drawn at the outer edge of the page with the sketchbook turned to the right is the first of eight such sketches of the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument on Calton Hill.
The sketches, all but one of which were made at the outer edges of seven verso pages (with the last made on the recto of the eighth) were drawn in a unique shorthand style that makes use of a pared-down system of signs. The present sketch is made up almost entirely of short dots and dashes with a few larger lines and circular shapes. Without the context of the following seven sketches little would be discernable in this sketch other perhaps than the row of figures at the top right – their matchstick forms being a conventional enough sign for people. The other parts of the sketch require comparison with other drawings and written accounts of the event in order to decipher it.
Butlin and Joll’s interpretation of the drawing as related to the unnumbered composition on folio 43 verso of the King at Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate D40979; Turner Bequest CCI 43a) which is preparatory for the painting, George IV at the Provost’s Banquet, circa 1822 (Tate N02858),1 is therefore understandable. The mistake presumably arises from the row of figures at the top right who bear a compositional similarity to the figures at the King’s table in the banquet painting. Beneath them is another row of matchstick figures who could be the attendants in the painting, and to the left a row of dots and dashes recall the heads of other guests sitting at parallel rows of tables. The context of the subsequent seven drawings, however, to which this is stylistically very similar, makes this interpretation impossible. By the arrangement of those figures, their costumes (notably their hats and other accessories which would not have been worn indoors), and the presence of various other identifiable elements, these sketches can be seen not to be of the banquet but of the foundation stone ceremony.

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.153–4, cat.248.
For more information on Turner’s relationship to Cockerell see folio 26 verso (D17548; Turner Bequest CC 26a).
Finley 1981, pp.30. Turner only used one sketchbook on this occasion as far as it is known.

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