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 28 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook turned to the right is the seventh in a sequence of eight sketches recording the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument on Calton Hill on 27 August 1822 (see folio 22 verso; D17540). It is important to note with this sketch that Turner’s aim was not to create a composition, but to record the changing aspects of the scene as the events of the ceremony unfolded, and simultaneously to note details of interest such as the uniforms of the band and soldiers. Thus, the drawing on this page represents a shorthand sketch of objects of interest. These different parts can be difficult to unravel, with little help from Turner’s cryptic handwriting and short forms.
One aspect of this sketch that Finley does not go into is its diagrammatic character. He has assumed that its disparate appearance is a result of Turner’s disregard for the overall appearance of the scene in front of him – or in fact beneath him (he was sketching from a tower) – in his attempt ‘to combine both a record of an evolving process and a crystallization of an isolated instant’.1 While this explanation holds true and helps to explain the sketch’s relation to the other studies in the sequence, it misses the full significance of the drawing as a study in its own right by ignoring the relationship of the different parts. The key is the square or diamond grid in the centre of the drawing which divides the ground on which the ceremony was held into five or six different parts occupied by different objects and people. The grid helps to demonstrate that the scene is viewed from above, with the squares slightly squashed by foreshortening. This also explains why most of the figures appear to have no legs or feet.
At the top of the page is a row of figures seated at a table on a platform to the east of the foundations. As in other sketches made from the tower of Nelson’s Monument, they appear above the site of the stone (see folio 25 verso; D17546). Significant players on this stand were the Duke of Hamilton and the Duke of Atholl, who may be the two prominent and slightly larger figures at the centre of this group.

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Finley 1981, p.30.

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