Joseph Mallord William Turner

The King’s Landing at Leith


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 66 a

Catalogue entry

This drawing of George IV’s landing at Leith Harbour, made with the sketchbook inverted, contains even more detail and incident than the similar view on folio 58 verso (D17608). The drawing was made from the same position on the Customs Wharf across the Water of Leith to the west, and takes in the same view; although Turner has turned very slightly to the right (south) towards the drawbridge, and the Signal House appears further to the left of the picture.
The line of figures along the quayside that Turner describes as ‘Midlothian Corps’ are drawn in the same shorthand manner as circles above vertical lines, but these are now contrasted with less formally arranged figures at the left, below in boats, and in the foreground at the right where several figures stand on a platform to view the spectacle across the water. More attention is paid to the ships behind the drawbridge to the right and to the seamen perched on their yardarms. The main event, however, takes place in the lower part of the picture where two boats approach the landing stage from the left. Several figures stand on the slope up to the quay and on the platform stands a figure, perhaps Lord Lothian ready to receive the King. Although the Admiral’s barge preceded the King’s in the flotilla from the royal squadron, it is likely that the first vessel in this sketch is the royal barge and the figure at the centre, dressed in his admiral’s uniform is George IV himself, with the Marquis of Conyngham, Sir Charles Paget and the barge’s sixteen oarsmen. To the left is another boat of the flotilla.
Although Turner never made a painting based on this scene, and the subject was not among the nineteen compositions making up his proposed ‘Royal Progress’ cycle (see King at Edinburgh sketchbook, 1822; Tate D40979–D40980; Turner Bequest CCI 43a, Inside Back Cover), he did make a more finished sketch of the scene on a loose sheet (Tate D17767; Turner Bequest CCIII J), presumably from memory, in which the King is shown having just stepped onto the landing stage where he was greeted by Lord Lothian. See also another sketch of this event on folio 71 verso (D17632).

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

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