Joseph Mallord William Turner

Shipping at Leith Including the ?‘Royal Sovereign’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 52 a

Catalogue entry

There are three sketches of shipping at Leith on this page, two made with the book inverted, and one with it turned to the right from its usual orientation.
The largest of the three sketches focuses on one of the ships of the royal squadron with several smaller, two-masted vessels around it. Behind it to the right is the profile of Arthur’s Seat to the south. Turner displays ruthless economy with this sketch, drawing the boat’s bow and stern with closely observed detail, yet leaving the majority of the hull blank except for a few lines to connect the two ends, and indicating each of the three masts with a single, faint vertical line. Judging from the detail of the stern this is not the King’s yacht, the Royal George, as depicted on folios 4 and 72 verso (D17514, D17634). It may, instead, be the Royal Sovereign, the former royal yacht which was apparently ‘more magnificent’ than the newer Royal George.1 Indeed it resembles Nicholas Pocock’s painting of The ‘Royal Sovereign’ Conveying Louis XVIII to France, 24 April 1814, 1814 (National Maritime Museum, London). Turner’s inscription, ‘admiral’s’, is therefore misleading as the vessel that belonged to Admiral Beresford, The Dover, was a frigate, and therefore considerable larger than this (see folio 61 verso; D17614).
At the top right of the page, still with the book inverted, is a view of boats moored up along the coast of Leith with Edinburgh in the distance. Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill with Nelson’s Monument are as usual the most distinctive landmarks. The vessel on the far left may again be the Royal Sovereign, judging from its size relative to the other boats and its position to the left of Arthur’s Seat. Turner peeled back the present page in order to continue this sketch at the top right (the page being similarly inverted) of folio 51 verso (D17594).
The final drawing on this page, made with the sketchbook in the portrait format, shows boats under sail or at anchor with the Leith shore behind, as in the continued sketch on folio 51 verso.

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

This was how its Captain Charles Adam apparently described it to the Grant sisters, see John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.326.

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