Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tarbert Castle at East Tarbert, Kintyre

1831

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 201 x 125 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D26610
Turner Bequest CCLXX 88 a

Catalogue entry

Turner landed at East Tarbert during his steamboat journey from Glasgow to Islay. Having travelled along the Firth of Clyde, through the Kyles of Bute and into Loch Fyne, Turner landed at East Tarbert from where he walked or coached to West Tarbert (folio 83 verso; D26600) to continue his journey on another steamboat to Port Askaig (see folio 15; D26464 and Tour of Scotland for Scott’s Poetical Works 1831 Tour Introduction).1
This page contains four sketches that Turner made as his boat entered East Loch Tarbert. Working down the page and centring on the castle the sketches record his progress to shore. The top sketch, which continues on folio 89 (D26611) where it in inscribed ‘East Tarbet’, was made just before Turner’s boat rounded Mealdarroch Point into East Loch Tarbert. Through the mouth of the loch can be seen part of the town and the masts of boats moored along the quay, and the tower of Tarbert Castle is above the cliffs of the harbour mouth. Rather than trying out different compositions, as was often his aim when he made a number of sketches of a place, Turner’s purpose here seems to have been to record his journey to shore, thus building up a three-dimensional picture of the place through multiple viewpoints.
In the second sketch Turner’s boat is just entering the loch. This drawing must have been made just seconds after the first, as the same sailing boat is still in the same position at the left of the sketch. More of the ruined keep has now come into view. The third sketch was made as the boat was negotiating its passage through the channel between the rocks to the quay, and shows just the castle with the hill to the left. In the final sketch at the bottom of the page the castle is drawn in more detail, and we can see its broken gable and crumbling turret. The view is probably from the quay to the north, and includes part of the town to the west at the right of the picture. The sketch continues on folio 89 with the hills to the west of the town.
Turner stayed at East Tarbert long enough to walk around the harbour making various views of the harbour (folio 27 verso; D26489) and castle (folios 29 verso, 30, 33 verso, 37 verso, 76 verso and 80; D26493, D26494, D26501, D26509, D26587, D26594), and climbing the hill to the south of the town to draw the castle from up close (folio 83; D26599). His interest in the few castle remains may have been sparked, as David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan suggest, by the romantic description of it in the guidebook, The Steamboat Companion, as standing ‘in gloomy elevation, towering on a Sullen Crag’,2 and by its associations with the Lord of the Isles.

Thomas Ardill
December 2009

1
The route is explained by David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and in Islay – 1831’, 1991, Tate catalogue files, folio 8.
2
James Lumsden and Son, Lumsden and Son’s Steamboat Companion; or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow 1839, p.112; quoted in David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and Islay – 1831’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, folio 8.

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