Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Peers’ Ball at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 x 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 47

Catalogue entry

Gerald Finley has identified this sketch, and another on folio 48 (D17587), as showing the Ball given in King George IV’s honour on 23 August 1822. This was the Peers’ Ball (also referred to by Sir Walter Scott as the ‘Highland Ball’) – the Caledonian Hunt Ball was held on the 26th – to which Scott, in his Hints, stipulated that ‘no gentleman is to be allowed to appear in anything but the ancient Highland costume’.1 This explains the mixture of men in highland dress and women in eveningwear. It may also account for the double page of studies and notes of highland costume and accessories on folios 44 verso– 45 (D17580–D17581).
Although the setting does not match any of the spaces in the Assembly Rooms, in which both balls were held, Finley has noticed that is it accords with Robert Mudie’s description and diagram of the great supper room:
a temporary wooden building erected in the court-yard behind, extending from the second ball-room, the windows of which (the sashes being taken out) formed the doors of the new room.2
The extension was polygonal, and ‘designed like a tent’, with strips of muslin falling from a chandelier in the centre of the ceiling to the ‘slender pillars’ that supported it. The folds of cloth can be seen at the upper centre of the drawing, converging at the top of one of the pillars.
Although the crowd appear to stand in a concaved semicircle, a shape that the arches seem to follow, this may actually be the inner rather than the outer wall of the space. The outer polygon was lined with tables, and was decorated with a trompe-l’oeil of Scottish scenery by Mr Roberts, scene painter of the Royal Theatre, neither of which are in evidence. Furthermore, it is possible to see through the first and second arches at the left to a room beyond into which the crowd appears to be filing (see folio 48).
Turner has captured the sense of excited commotion with this crowd scene. Although individual figures are only roughly delineated, characteristic features such as bonnets, tartan, shields and ball gowns can be discerned, and inscriptions add further details (see also folio 46 verso; D17584).

Thomas Ardill
September 2008

Sir Walter Scott, Hints addressed to the Inhabitants of Edinburgh and others in prospect of His Majesty’s Visit by an Old Citizen, Edinburgh 1822, quoted in John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.103.
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.220.

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