Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ruins of Dunbar


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXV 23 a

Catalogue entry

This drawing shows the ruins of Dunbar Castle, a subject that Turner made numerous sketches of from various angles in preparation for his illustration to Scott’s Provincial Antiquities: Dunbar, watercolour, circa 1823 (private collection).1 This drawing shows the ruins from the east, as in Turner’s illustration. The castle extends into the sea and it is difficult to tell which parts are rock and which are masonry, as both are of the same red colour and have been similarly demolished or decayed. This ambiguity offered Turner countless possibilities of how to depict the ruins, and gave him the opportunity to compare the work of man and of nature. In this drawing he makes the distinction between natural and man-made quite clear, using a relatively light, straight line accompanied by shading to show the castle, and a freer jagged line to show the outline of the rocks.
Although the large number of sketches Turner felt compelled to make of this subject may suggest that he was struggling to find a suitable composition, it is significant to note that he remains very focused on the castle and rocks, in most cases ignoring the nearby town. A notable exception is the drawing on the next page (folio 24; D13365; CLXV 24) in which we see Dunbar Castle as well as the town, harbour and hills in the distance.

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1066.

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