A.J. Finberg catalogued this pencil study on two sheets of paper fastened together with red sealing wax as a harbour scene showing the arrival or departure ceremony of King George IV to Scotland.1 In his study of the sketches and paintings associated with the royal visit, Gerald Finley identified the event as the King’s landing at Leith Harbour on 15 August 1822.2
It was a momentous occasion as it was the first time that a reigning monarch had stepped foot on Scottish soil since 1633. Turner’s drawing catches this moment with the King, wearing a tricorn hat and admiral’s uniform, standing on the landing stage having just disembarked from the barge that brought him from his yacht, the Royal George, to Leith. He is accompanied on the stage by the Duke of Dorset and the Marquis of Winchester, with the Marquis of Lothian standing on the slope to welcome him to Scotland.3
Turner travelled to Edinburgh to witness and record the events associated with the King’s visit (see George IV’s Visit to Edinburgh Tour Introduction), and on 15 August took to the water to sketch the King’s journey to shore (Tate D17517; Turner Bequest CC 5a), before taking his place among the other artists on the Custom House Quay to see the landing. He made three sketches of the landing from this point (Tate D17608, D17622, D17632; Turner Bequest CC 58a, 66a, 71a), all showing a flurry of activity as the barge approached the landing stage. Turner must have worked at a furious pace to record enough of the details of the scene and activity of the event.
The current study contrasts with the rapid (though careful) jottings of the on-the-spot sketches, indicating that it was not made at the time, but at a later date from sketches and memory. The viewpoint of the composition confirms this, as the earlier sketches show that Turner stood on the Custom House Quay to the north-west of the landing stage, rather than to the southwest which is the viewpoint of the study.
Why then, did Turner make this study? Finley suggests that the activity of the on-the-spot sketches was ‘not clearly expressed’ and that he may have decided that the subject of the King in the royal barge was not as suitable as the King actually landing,4 suggesting that this elaborate study was made simply to clarify the scene that Turner also represented in a tiny thumbnail composition in the King at Edinburgh sketchbook (composition ‘3’, Tate D40979; Turner Bequest CCI 43a). This thumbnail belongs to a set of nineteen compositions that Finley has suggested represents a proposal for a series of paintings of the royal visit to Scotland. Some of these were worked up into oil sketches, or used for other designs, but the series as a whole was never completed.5
Finberg 1909, I, p.617, CCIII J.
Finley 1975, p.32.
Robert Mudie’s, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.100.
Finley 1981, pp.28, 33.
Finley 1981, pp.32–8.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.154 no. 248b.
Mudie 1822, pp.99–100.