Joseph Mallord William Turner

Smailholm Tower


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVII 85 a

Catalogue entry

With the sketchbook inverted, this view of Smailholm Tower from across the millpond to the east formed the basis of Turner’s vignette illustration to John Gilbert Lockhart’s Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott: Sandy Knowe or Smailholm Tower circa 1838 (Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, New York).1
The sketched view has an almost horizontally symmetrical composition, with the crags at the top half of the image mirrored in the rocks and jagged outline of the water’s edge at the bottom half. Although altered in the watercolour, that picture similarly has a symmetrical composition which appears to be made up of two rough circles of light: at the top with the tower in the background and at the bottom with the water in the middle distance.
Gerald Finley has related the Lockhart vignette to a watercolour of the same subject that Turner made as a gift to Scott in 1832 – Smailholm Tower and Sandyknowe Farm 1832 (Courtauld Gallery, London) – drawing attention to its compositional similarity, and to the shared theme of Scott’s life (Scott appears as a child in the former and with Turner in the latter).2 However, while the Lockhart vignette may have been inspired by the gift vignette, it was not (as Finley suggests) based upon it, as it clearly derives from the present sketch, though with foreground details taken from the bottom sketch on folio 81 verso (D26075; CCLXVII 83a).

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.435 no.1140.
Finley 1980, p.218.

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