Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of Port Askaig, Islay; East Tarbert, Kintyre; and the River Scavaig


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 201 x 125 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXX 37 a

Catalogue entry

At the top of the page, and continuing slightly on folio 38 (D26510), is a sketch inscribed ‘Islay’ and ‘Pt Askaig’. The view of Port Askaig is from the shore to the south, and looks across the little harbour to the quay and across to the island of Jura, with the peaks of the Paps of Jura to the east (folio 38). Boats are moored at the right of the harbour, though there is no sign of the steamboat (the Maid of Islay No.2) that took Turner to and from the port.1 At the left are figures on the quayside, and the inscription below may read ‘Horses’, though Turner has not troubled to draw them. The structure at the top of the cliff no longer stands but features as a focal point in most of the Port Askaig sketches: folios 34 verso, 65 verso, 75 verso–76 verso, 79 verso, 80, 84, 86 verso, 87 (D26503, D26565, D26585–D26587, D26593, D26594, D26601, D26606, D26607).
The second sketch down could easily be mistaken for the same place, and David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan have suggested that it could also show Port Askaig.2 However, the shape of the hill at the left and the ruin on it, the size of the harbour, and the hill in the background are all more typical of East Loch Tarbert with Tarbert Castle (see folio 88 verso: D26610). The view is from the east of the loch, looking towards the harbour at the left and the town straight ahead. There are similar views at the top of folio 88 verso, and at the top of folio 30 (D26494). The similarity between the Port Askaig and East Tarbert sketches may not be a coincidence. The two places are also sketched side by side with similar compositions on folio 80 (D26594), suggesting that Turner may have been interested in exploring the similarities between the two ports.
The bottom two sketches show the head of Loch Scavaig and the entrance to Loch Coruisk. Turner took a boat from Elgol up Loch Scavaig and into Loch na Cuilce, where he landed and walked over the rocks to Loch Coruisk. The third sketch down, inscribed ‘Lake Coriskn’, shows the River Scavaig at the left winding from Loch Coruisk into Loch Scavaig, with the rocks to the south of the loch at the right. Turner’s route was the established one to Coruisk and it is likely that when discussing his itinerary with Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford in August that year Scott had given Turner the same advice that he gave to the artist William Daniell: ‘go into Loch Scavig – it is divided at the bottom of the bay by a small headland, keep the north side of the head land & land where a torrent breaks down from the land – five minutes walk will conduct you to the most astonishing piece of scenery.’3 Turner sketched a view of this spot from above on folio 38 verso (D26511).

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and Islay – 1831’, [1991], Tate catalogue files.
David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Islay Sketches (“St & West” CCLXX)’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, [folio 2].
Quoted in John Garvey, William Daniell’s Isle of Skye and Raasay: An Artist’s Journey in 1815, Leicester 2009, p.20.

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