Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of Urquhart Castle


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 150 x 180 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXVI 19

Catalogue entry

Gerald Wilkinson was closer than he thought when he suggested that this ‘ruined castle was somewhere near Loch Ness.’1 The three sketches on this page are of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.2 The artist passed the ruin as he was travelling by steamboat up the loch towards Inverness. The boat must have passed quite close to the structure, allowing its passengers to get a good look at what the Steamboat Companion called the ‘celebrated old castle’.3 Turner therefore took a typical tourist’s interest in the ruins, as well as a romantic artist’s interest in their picturesque potential. A sketch, inscribed ‘Urqu[h]art Cas[tle]’, looking towards the castle from Foyers Bay five miles to the south, is evidence of the artist’s anticipation at seeing the ruins (folio 29 verso (D27017).
Sketches of the castle are scattered slightly haphazardly through the sketchbook, starting with views from the southern approach on folios 14 and 21 (D26988, D27002), and perhaps also on folio 20 (D27000). Sketches made as he passed the castle are on the present page, folio 11 verso, 21 and 21 verso (D26983, D27002, D27003), and sketches looking back to the castle from the north are on folios 14 verso, 19 verso and perhaps 20 verso (D26989, D26999, D27001). Folios 11 verso, 19, 21 and 21 verso contain studies of the castle architecture, while the other pages carry sketches of the castle in its landscape setting.
The first sketch to be made on the present page is at the bottom right, drawn with the sketchbook turned to the right. This is a view from the east which focuses on the tower house with its turrets, gables, corbels and windows. Other ruins are also seen to the right and left, and Turner included part of the rocky outcrop on which the castle was built, although he discarded the setting beyond that.
With the sketchbook back in its conventional orientation (so that the Turner Bequest Stamp is at the bottom right) is a view of the castle from the north-east. Most of the castle buildings around the tower house now appear to the right, including the gatehouse to the far right. This sketch includes a little more of the headland on which the castle sits, with trees or shrubs at the right and the profile of the hill to the west.

Thomas Ardill
April 2010

Wilkinson 1975, p.70.
David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner’s 1831 Sketchbook T.B. CCLXXVI Fort Augustus’, [circa 1992–3], Tate catalogue files, [unpaginated].
James Lumsden and Son, Lumsden and Son’s Steamboat Companion; or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow 1839, p.162.

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