Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of Bass Rock, Tantallon Castle, North Berwick Law, and the Islands of Fidra, Craigleith and May


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 78 a

Catalogue entry

Just as he travelled to Edinburgh by boat, sketching the coast on his way, so Turner returned to London by sea, recording what he saw in his sketchbook. This page contains the first drawings made on the return journey, sketches of which continue on folios 79–84, 86, 87, 88 and 91 (D17646–D17656, D17660, D17662, D17664, D17670).
Turner picked up where he had left off on his outward journey to Edinburgh with a drawing of North Berwick Law, here seen from the north-west at the bottom of the present page (the sketchbook has been turned to the right). Looking south he then made a sketch above the last, of the Island of Fidra (left) and Craigleith (right). Still working up the page and turning to the east he drew, from left to right, the islands of May, ‘Bass R[ock]’ and ‘Craig Leith’ (Craigleith). His boat sailed on, passing between Craigleith and North Berwick, and turning around he made a slightly more considered study of North Berwick Law from the north-east, showing the rocky crags and shoals around Milsey Bay. The sketch is inscribed ‘N Berwick.’
Realising that this was his last chance to see the Bass Rock before making his illustration for the tenth number of the Provincial AntiquitiesBass Rock, circa 1824 (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside) –1 Turner looked to the east to draw it once again. The dozens of sketches from almost every angle in the 1818 sketchbooks (see Scottish 1818 Tour Introduction) attest to the artist’s interest in the island, but perhaps also to his failure to compose a satisfactory picture on the spot. He quickly made six more attempts starting at the top of this page with a view from some distance to the south-west, with two small vessels sailing past, both of which are dwarfed by the vast scale of the rock. This neat little sketch, in fact, comes close to the final design which was ultimately based not on any single sketch but on a combination of several including this and those on the following page, folio 79.
Alternating between sketches of the Bass, Turner made drawings of Tantallon Castle, which faces the island on the cliffs to the south. His boat came close to the shore, and as it drew parallel to Podlie Craig and Gin Head, just to the west of Tantallon, he made a sketch of the castle near the top of this page. Similar studies exist in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook of 1818 (Tate D13608; Turner Bequest CLXVII 13). Sketches of Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle continue on folios 79 verso and 80 of the present sketchbook (D17647, D17648).

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1069.

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