Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Library 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 64 a

Catalogue entry

Turner made five sketches of the interior of Abbotsford during his stay from 4–9 August 1831.1 These show the library (this page, folios 63 and 65; D26038, D26042; CCLXVII 65, 67); the study (folio 64 verso; D26041; CCLXVII 66a); the armoury (folios 65 verso–66; D26043–D26044; CCLXVII 67a–68); and the entrance hall (folios 66 verso; D26045; CCLXVII 68a). For sketches of the house’s exterior see folio 16 verso (D25957; CCLXVII 16a).
Drawn across the present page and folio 63 (D26308; CCLXVII 65) is the Library at Abbotsford, the residence of Sir Walter Scott. The best source for the contents of this room is a pencil drawing by William Allan, made the same year as the present sketch (National Galleries of Scotland). Both show a similar view of the room from the west end looking towards the east.2 Turner’s sketch, however, intended as a visual note rather than a finished picture, takes a more panoramic approach than Allan’s, bringing more of the north and south walls into view.
The end wall in the sketch is therefore the east side of the room. To the right of the wall, next to the bust of William Shakespeare (described along with the other half of the sketch in the entry for folio 65), is what may be a fire screen, perhaps the one with the painted hawk that is seen in a photograph of the Drawing Room taken in 1878.3 Above and either side of the niche, and on every other wall, are the book cabinets, indicated in Turner’s sketch by an arch for the top of each door. Above this Turner has roughly indicated the richly moulded ceiling which was based on that of Roslin (Rosslyn) Chapel, with a series of X-shapes, and a few of the bosses.
In the centre of the room is the large desk that is seen in Allan’s drawing and in a photograph of 1989.4 Both of these sources show an inkwell that Turner has omitted, though it may be hidden by a square shape perhaps representing an open book.
On the left wall (the south wall) is a marble fireplace,5 with a large portrait above it by Sir William Allen of Scott’s eldest son dressed in his uniform of the 18th Hussars.6 To the right of this Turner has drawn a painting of a landscape with a river and arched bridge framed by tall trees on each side. Allan’s drawing, however, shows that rather than a painting, there were further bookcases. This part of the sketch is therefore a mystery. It is either an item that hung in the library only temporarily, or Turner invented it.

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, 4–9 August 1831, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc.5188, Box 1, folios 102–111; transcribed 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, pp.377–384.
The house is, in fact, orientated at 45 degrees to the compass points, but the official guide book regards the front of the house (towards the river Tweed) as facing north, so this will be followed for simplicity.
Clive Wainwright, The romantic interior: the British collector at home,1750–1850, London 1989, p.183 pl.152.
Wainwright 1989, p.189 pl.156.
Wainwright 1989, p.188.
Major-General Sir Walter Maxwell Scott, Guide to Abbotsford, new edition, revised by Dr. James Corson, London [circa 1975], pp.5 reproduced, 10.

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