Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Flotilla of Barges at Leith Roads


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 75

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted are two sketches that Gerald Finley tentatively identifies as the ‘flotilla of barges preparing to depart for Leith harbour’.1 These are the boats that brought the King and his company from the royal squadron to Leith Harbour, including the royal barge (see folio 5 verso; D17517) which, steered by Commodore Sir Charles Paget and rowed by sixteen oarsmen, conveyed the King with the Marquis of Conyngham and Lord Graves. The other barges belonged to Admiral Beresford and the Captains of the boats in the squadron.2
There is no sign of Leith Harbour in this sketch; rather the barges appear to float close to the larger boats of the royal squadron. Little is actually shown of the vessels themselves, although their crews and passengers are indicated by horizontal clusters of circles and curves. The upper sketch may show the royal barge, identifiable from the flag flying from its stern (see folio 73 verso; D17636). The lower sketch concentrates on one of the ships of the fleet where a ladder to reach the barges can be made out.
The bustle and dynamism of the sketch is recreated in Turner’s unfinished oil of the subject, The King’s Departure from the ‘Royal Barge’ in the Royal Barge, circa 1823 (Tate N02880),3 although it shows a moment shortly after the one captured in the sketch, and the composition shows the ships and barges from a different viewpoint.

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Finley 1981, p.85.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.246 and ‘His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland’, The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, vol.92, June-December 1822, pp.173–4.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.154 no.248b.

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