Joseph Mallord William Turner

Staffa: The Entrance to Fingal’s Cave


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 20 a

Catalogue entry

Made as Turner approached the rocky landing point at the south of the Isle of Staffa, this sketch looks north-west towards the southern tip of the island, with the opening of Fingal’s Cave indicated by the arch of the opening and shading beneath. Although he reached Staffa from Tobermory by steamboat, Turner would have landed from a small ship’s boat which seems to have approached from the south-east. The sketch indicates how precarious the landing is, just a strip of rock which the boat’s captain had to be careful not to crash against, and which Turner recalled having to ‘scrabble over’ to reach the cave. No wonder that while ‘some got into Fingal’s Cave, others would not.’1 In this sketch Turner has observed the basalt columns that make up the walls of the cave and form a layer like a belt round the island. At the far right is the outline of the pyramidal rock called Am Buachaille (or the Herdsman). There are further sketches of Staffa from the south-east on folio 21 (D26782).
This sketch belongs to a sequence charting Turner’s journey down the western side of the island and around the southern point to the entrance of the cave: folios 18 verso–24 verso and 27 verso–28 (D26777–D26788, D26794–D26795).
For references to all of Turner’s sketches of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave see folio 40 (D26817).

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

Turner to James Lenox, 16 August 1845, in Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, pp.209–10 letter 288.

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