Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ruins of Dryburgh Abbey


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 73

Catalogue entry

This detailed drawing shows the Presbytery of Dryburgh Abbey, which is still in much the same state today, although less overgrown. Robert Cadell, the publisher to Sir Walter Scott’s works, accompanied Turner to the abbey. Turner may have already been aware that Cadell had rejected the proposal of an illustration of the spot where Scott was to be buried in the abbey (a side chapel near the remains of the north transept),1 and thus determined on a more distant view of the ruins, as in the sketch across folios 8 verso–9 (D25941–D25942; CCLXVII 8a–9). Turner may therefore have been drawn to these ruins purely for their personal interest and picturesque nature.
Other sketches on the page may also have a commemorative as well as documentary purpose. At the outer edge with the sketchbook turned to the left are sketches of three shields. These were drawn from relief carvings of coats of arms in the side chapels. The one at the left is a rather ornate carving with a carved helmet above, and a shield surrounded by leaves with the inscription in a scroll above it reading ‘WATCH WEELL’ which Turner has copied out. The two shields to the right of this are both found on a terracotta coloured plaque with a long Latin inscription that is located nearby. The location of these carvings near tombs in a side chapel of Dryburgh may have reminded Turner of Scott’s burial arrangements, and the author’s mortality; he was in a poor state of health and died the following year.
There are further close-up studies of Dryburgh on folios 71 verso–73 verso (D26055–D26059; CCLXVII 73a–75a).

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Anne Lyles, Turner: The Fifth Decade: Watercolours 1830–1840, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.44.

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