Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of Dunstaffnage Castle; Ben Cruachan from Dunstaffnage; and a Wrecked Boat


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 116 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 89

Catalogue entry

Although Turner had not been commissioned to sketch Dunstaffnage Castle for Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works (the project that brought him to Scotland in 1831), he took a great interest in the ruin, making numerous sketches from a distance and close by. These proved useful when he was commissioned to make a watercolour of Dunstaffnage circa 1832–5 (Indianapolis Museum of Art),1 to be engraved for volume 24 of Sir Walter Scott’s Prose Works.
Turner visited the castle on his way to Oban via Loch Etive. As he approached it from the loch to the east he made a number of sketches on folios 80 verso–83 verso, 84 verso and 86 (D26899–D26905, D26907, D26910). On reaching the castle he entered its grounds and made studies of the ruins from the vicinity: folios 87–89 verso (D26912–D26917), before circling the castle more widely to make sketches from various directions: folios 90, 91–93, 94 (D26918, D26920–D26924, D26926), 98 and 97 verso (D26932, D26935; CCLXXIII 97, 98a). Turner also took the opportunity on a later occasion to sketch the castle as he passed it on his journey to Fort William: folio 39 verso (D26816).
This page contains three sketches of the castle and a separate diagrammatical sketch. The most significant is the sketch across the centre of the page (with the fore-edge at the top). This is the drawing that Andrew Wilton and others have identified as the study for Turner’s watercolour.2 It shows a view of the castle from the west, made from a few hundred metres away near the edge of the promontory at the mouth of Loch Etive. In the distance to the left of the castle are the mountains to the north of Loch Etive. The sketch resembles the composition of the watercolour with the castle on its rock at the right, the water of Loch Linnhe to the left and mountains in the distance. The watercolour, however, in fact shows the castle from the north-west, a view that is depicted on the reverse of this page (folio 89 verso), but which has a similar composition. Turner must have referred to a number of his sketches for different details when he came to make his watercolour.

Thomas Ardill
January 2010

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.344 no.1124.
Ibid.; Irwin, Wilton, Finley and others 1982, p.54.

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