Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sir Walter Scott’s Visit to the ‘Royal George’; Sketches of Leith from the Firth of Forth


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 62

Catalogue entry

This page records Sir Walter Scott’s barge rowing out to visit the Royal George in Leith Roads on 14 August 1822: the event that Gerald Finley calls, The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, and has identified as the basis of Turner’s title-page vignette for volume two of the 1826 edition of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland.1 The subject was used as the first composition of Turner’s proposed ‘Royal Progress’ series (see Tate D40979; Turner Bequest CCI 43a).2
There are three sketches on the page: in the middle, a view of the royal squadron in Leith Roads, and at the top, and continuing at the bottom, a view of Leith with Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills beyond from the Firth of Forth.
The royal squadron sketch includes two identifiable ships, the King’s yacht, the Royal George, in the centre of the picture, and Admiral John Beresford’s flagship, HMS Dover (see folio 61 verso; D17614) at the right. In addition it becomes apparent, by comparing the sketch to Turner’s vignette design, that the marks to the left of the Royal George denote Admiral Beresford’s barge conveying Sir Walter Scott to the King’s yacht (see folio 49 verso; D17590). Although it is in itself slightly obscure, with reference to the vignette design this sketch can be understood to show the recent arrival of the boats of the royal squadron with Sir Walter Scott coming to meet the king. This narrative is emphasised in the vignette by the motif of two clasped hands. The vignette design takes the middle part of the sketch, leaving out HMS Dover to the right and replacing it with masts partially obscured by cannon smoke.
The panoramic view of Leith starts at the top of the page with the eastern half of Leith, and continues at the bottom with the western half. Dominating the top sketch are the outlines of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, with Nelson’s Monument and Calton Gaol on top. There is a very slight overlap with the sketch at the bottom of the page which shows ‘Calton’ Gaol again at the left, with the open crown spire of St Giles’s Cathedral on the skyline, ‘Granton’ Harbour below and the Pentland Hills in the background.

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Finley 1981, p.85.
Ibid., p.32.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.153 no. 248a.

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