Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Entrance Hall at Abbotsford


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 68 a

Display caption

Turner used Sir Walter Scott's home at Abbotsford in Roxburghshire as a base from which to explore the countryside around the Border when, during the summer of 1831, he was searching for material for a new edition of Scott's 'Poetical Works'. The house was created by Scott between 1812 and 1832, and incorporated into its exterior many traditional features from old Scottish buildings such as the crow-stepped gables and distinctive corner turrets which are visible in Turner's study of the river front seen here. The sketch on the opposite page shows the entrance hall at Abbotsford, where Scott displayed his large collection of arms and armour.

Gallery label, January 1992

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Catalogue entry

This drawing of the Entrance Hall at Abbotsford is Turner’s most detailed sketch of the interior of Sir Walter Scott’s home, and has received the most attention in exhibitions and publications. Drawn with the book inverted, the drawing records the view from the entrance at the west end of the room. The hall was Scott’s showpiece, being panelled with oak from the pews of Dunfermline Abbey, and decorated with various relics of Scottish military history, coats of arms, and the first pieces of Scott’s armoury collection. At the end of the hall is the doorway through to Scott’s study, either side of this are two full suits of armour, and around the door are coats of arms. Above it is a carved figure of a saint in a gothic niche. At either end and in the centre of each rib of the ceiling are coats of arms from Scottish Baronial families, with their names inscribed above.
The northern (left) wall is hung with arms, armour and the skulls and horns of various Scottish and foreign animals. The stone fireplace was modelled on the cloisters of Melrose Abbey, and on the mantelpiece Scott kept various curiosities and relics including geological artefacts, and casts of the skulls of Shaw (a noted soldier at Waterloo) and Robert the Bruce.1 Between two doorways to the right of the fireplace was a table made from a mosaic slab that Scott purchased, with a bust on it.2

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Scott’s interest in the objects, along with their historical significance, was to do with phrenology. It is interesting to note that Turner apparently held a conversation with one of Scott’s guests on this subject on 6 August 1831, which apparently bored Robert Cadell, who reported it in his diary. See Clive Wainwright, The Romantic Interior: the British Collector at Home, 1750–1850, London 1989, p.204, and Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, 6 August 1831, folio 107 verso, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc. 5188, Box 1; reproduced in Gerald E. Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner and Sir Walter Scott: Iconography of a Tour’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.31, 1972, p.381.
The contents on the Entrance Hall are discussed in Wainwright 1989, pp.199–206.

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