Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of Edinburgh from Calton Hill


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 190 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIX 37

Catalogue entry

A.J. Finberg tentatively identified these sketches as Stirling,1 a suggestion that was later taken up by Henry Crawford in his little book on Turner’s sketches of Stirling, though he also raised the possibility of Edinburgh as an alternative identification.2 A number of distinctive features make this latter suggestion certain, and we can now assert that these are three sketches of Edinburgh from Regent Road to the south of Calton Hill.
The sketch at the top of the page is the most readily identifiable. The castle stands on a rock above the town with North Bridge before it and the open-crown steeple of St Giles’s Cathedral and the gothic spire of the Tron Kirk to the left. The shaded building in the foreground just to the right of centre is the Governor’s House of Carlton Gaol.
Many of the same buildings and structures can be made out in the sketch below which includes in the foreground the road sweeping around the lower slopes of Calton Hill. The Governor’s House is now at the centre of the sketch with North Bridge and the castle to the left. Just to the right of the Gaol is the half-domed apse and steeple of St Cuthbert’s church.
At the bottom of the page is a sketch from just above the Governor’s House, part of which can be seen further down the slope of the hill at the bottom left of the sketch. The profile of Edinburgh Castle is prominent on the skyline with North Bridge below it and the spire of St Giles’s and the Tron Kirk to its left. At the top right of the sketch is part of the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill.
Many of these buildings and structures were familiar to Turner who had painted a watercolour of Edinburgh from Calton Hill circa 1819 (National Gallery of Scotland).3 Turner visited Calton Hill in the company of Robert Cadell on 4 October 1834 and there are sketches from the top of the hill on folios 76 verso–79 verso (D26405–D26411) of this sketchbook that may have been made on that occasion. There is also a sketch of Nelson’s Monument on the hill on folio 85 (D26422).
Finberg 1909, II, p.865.
Crawford 1936, p.25.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1066.

Thomas Ardill
November 2010

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