Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grassmarket and Edinburgh Castle


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 99 × 159 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXV 49 a

Catalogue entry

The Castle from the Grassmarket was engraved by Henry Le Keux from A.W. Calcott’s design for the fourth number of Scott’s Provincial Antiquities. This page shows Turner’s version of the scene, which concentrates more on the area’s commercial activity than it does on its proximity to the castle or history as the site where condemned criminals were hanged. We look at a row of shops and businesses on the north side of the Grassmarket with the Castle Rock behind.
Turner has fastidiously inscribed the buildings with the names of their proprietors, although, unfortunately his illegible handwriting makes it difficult to be certain of the names, none of which seems to match the famous establishments of the Grassmarket; although ‘B’ may stand for ‘Black Bull’, a tavern that still exists and resembles the building in the centre of this drawing. Turner also inscribed names on sketches of Edinburgh High Street and the West Bow with Heriot’s Hospital on folio 52 verso (D13412; CLXV 50a) and in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13412, D13697, D13701–D13702, D13708; Turner Bequest CLXVII 65a, 67a, 68, 69); many of these can be made out by the clearer lettering in Turner’s watercolour versions of the subjects: Edinburgh High Street, circa 1818 (Yale Center for British Art)1 and Heriot’s Hospital, circa 1819 (National Gallery of Scotland).2
The inscription at the top of the page, ‘grass’, is easy to make out. The name written across the building in the centre of the picture may be ‘G[e]o[rge] Wright [?]Luther’ (or Heather), with ‘Crosbi studios’ or ‘stables’ written below it. The name at the bottom left may read ‘N Macarlow’. The inscription at the bottom centre of the page may describe two businesses: ‘[...] Maker’ and ‘Grocer’. The inscription at the bottom right looks like: ‘Durham | Horburgh | Shop’. Finally Turner seems to have added his own initials at the very right of the sketch, ‘JMW’. The letters ‘B’ and ‘W’ are also written on two of the buildings, either referring to the proprietors (such as ‘Black Bull’), or perhaps to the appearance of the buildings themselves, for example, ‘black’ and ‘white’, or ‘brick’ and ‘wooden’.

Thomas Ardill
November 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1061.
Ibid., no.1064.
Sir Walter Scott, Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland with Descriptive Illustrations by Sir Walter Scott, Bart., Vol.I, London and Edinburgh, p.[86].
Sir Walter Scott, The Heart of Midlothian, 1818, Chapter First.

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