Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of Shipping in Leith Roads and the Firth of Forth with Barnbougle Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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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 35

Catalogue entry

The sketch across the centre of this page has interested commentators since it was noticed to contain one of the first known depictions by Turner of a steamboat. Although Finberg does not mention the vessel, his incorrect identification of the view as being ‘On the Clyde’,1 suggests that he noticed the funnels and smoke at the left of the sketch and assumed that Turner must have been depicting the river that was serviced by some of the first steamboat services and that became the centre of British boatbuilding. Gerald Finley recognised the river as the Forth, and William Rodner spotted the steamboat and noted that it was ‘one of Turner’s earliest representations of a steamer’, suggesting that it could be the ‘James Watt’,2 although it could equally be the Comet, another steamer accompanying the royal squadron of George IV in 1822. He seems not to have noticed the very similar vessel on folio 73 verso (D17636).
Many of the other vessels in this sketch are likely to belong to the royal squadron, and the background is likely to be Leith Roads as Finley and David Wallace-Hadrill have suggested,3 although there are no distinguishing features, unless, as Wallace-Hadrill suggests, Calton Hill can be seen. The sketch continues very slightly on folio 34 verso (D17561).
At the top of the page is a sketch of the coastline around ‘Barnbougle’ Castle on the Firth of Forth between Leith and South Queensferry which may have been sketched while Turner was in a boat sketching the shipping in Leith Roads. There is another reference to Barnbougle on folio 53 (D17597). The drawing beneath may be a continuation of the coastline to the west. The drawing continues at the top of folio 34 verso.

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

Finberg, 1909, I, p.611, CC 35.
William S. Rodner, J.M.W. Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution, Berkeley and London 1997, pp.23, 171 note 15.
David Wallace-Hadrill, unpublished notes, [circa 1990–2], Tate catalogue files, unpaginated.

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