Turner arrived in Selkirk on 2 October 1834, having travelled from Edinburgh via Peebles, Innerleithen and St Mary’s Loch, on an excursion to sketch sites associated with the life and works of Sir Walter Scott. It is possible that he spent the night of 2 October in the town, as it is the approximate mid-point on his journey. There are, however, no signs in the sketchbook that he crossed Selkirk Bridge to the eastern bank of the Ettrick Water, and the sequence of sketches across folios 40–42 (D26172–D26176) suggest that he hurried past the town as he travelled north. If this was the case then he may have spent the previous night at Peebles, making 3 October a very busy day of travelling, with no time to stop at Selkirk.
Gerald Finley has suggested that Turner visited the town in order to make sketches for possible illustrations of Scott’s novel, The Surgeon’s Daughter.1 Although Selkirk is not mentioned in the novel, it is likely to have been the inspiration for the fictional town of Middlemas, which is described in the book as being ‘situated in one of the midland counties of Scotland’. The character of Dr Gideon Grey is also thought to have been based on Scott’s doctor, Ebenezer Clarkson of Selkirk.2
This first sketch of the town was made by Turner on his approach from the south. 3 The only sign of Selkirk on this page is the spire of the Town Hall above the bank of the Ettrick Water on the right; it is depicted much more clearly on folio 40 verso (D26173). The sketch at the left of the page, made with the book turned to the right, is probably a view looking north to the hills surrounding the Tweed valley from this point.
Turner had visited Selkirk three years earlier in the company of Scott’s publisher Robert Cadell and made sketches in the Abbotsford sketchbook (Tate D26072; Turner Bequest CCLXVII 82).
There is a light brown stain at the top centre-left of the page.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.182.
Walter Scott, The Surgeon’s Daughter, 1827, chapter 1; ‘The Surgeon’s Daughter’, The Walter Scott Digital Archive, Edinburgh University Library, accessed 17 January 2011, < http://www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/works/novels/daughter.html >.
Identified by Gerald E. Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner and Sir Walter Scott: Iconography of a Tour’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 35, 1972, p. 382 note 134.