Turner witnessed and drew two events in which a barge appears alongside the King’s yacht, the Royal George, in Leith Roads, so there is often a degree of uncertainty as to which event is depicted: Sir Walter Scott’s barge on 14 August, or the royal barge setting out to land at Leith on 15 August. Gerald Finley has regarded the drawing on the present page, made with the book inverted, as representing ‘Sir Walter Scott’s barge approaching the Royal George’, and therefore as related to the oil painting of The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, circa 1823 (Tate N02879).1 The sketch is certainly broadly similar in composition to that painting with the royal yacht at the right, and Scott’s barge approaching the stern from the left, with a flag, or sail hanging loosely from the mast.
There is an equal visual and compositional similarity, however, to the other unfinished ‘royal progress’ oil painting which appears to show The King’s Departure from the ‘Royal George’ in the Royal Barge, circa 1823 (Tate N02990).2 Composition ‘2’ from Turner’s proposed ‘Royal Progress’ cycle, which formed the basis of this oil, also matches the present sketch much more closely than composition ‘1’ (Tate D40979; Turner Bequest CCI 43a). Furthermore, there are several features of the drawing and the other sketches and inscriptions on the page that point to this latter subject.
First, there are two lines coming out from the port side of the royal yacht which probably represent the ‘launching crane’ used to lower the royal barge to the water. Finley noticed this feature on folio 5 verso (D17417) and it can also be seen on folio 69 (D17627), suggesting that this is the royal barge recently lowered into the water, and just setting off for Leith. There were sixteen oarsmen on that craft as well as the King and attendants and although that number cannot be seen Turner has made an effort to suggest that the boat is crowded with people.
On the starboard side, obscuring the hulls of the other vessels which can be made out by their masts, Turner drew a large cloud of smoke and added a description of the visual effect:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.153–4 no.248a; Finley 1981, p.85. See also pp.38–43.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.154 no.238b.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.245–6 and ‘His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland’, The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, vol.92, June-December 1822, pp.245–6.