Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tobermory Bay from the Hill Above Main Street


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 116 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 1 a

Catalogue entry

Tobermory is the main village on Mull and was where Turner caught the Maid of Morven steamboat to the Isle of Staffa. He was therefore at Tobermory at least twice on his tour of 1831, once on his return from Skye and again on his return from Staffa. He may also have stopped at Tobermory on his journey from Oban to Skye, although the sequence of sketches in the Sound of Mull no.1 (Tate D26936–D26948; D26950–D26954; D41019–D41020 complete; Turner Bequest CCLXXIV) and Sound of Mull no.2 (Tate D26955–D26965; D41021–D41022 complete; Turner Bequest CCLXXV) sketchbooks suggests that the boat went straight on to Skye without stopping.
The Tobermory sketches in the Staffa sketchbook are split into two groups: folios 1–1a, 2a–3a (D26748–D26749, D26751–D26753) and folios 41–49 (D26819–D26836). This has led David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan to speculate that the two groups were made on separate occasions; the first before he left for Staffa and the second on his return. The authors acknowledge that ‘those familiar with Turner’s habit of leaving gaps in his sketchbooks may feel that such discontinuity in the spacing of sketches does not necessarily constitute discontinuity in the making of them.’ However, they go on to assert that ‘a gap of nearly forty pages stretches the argument further than it can bear.’1 Their suggestion is supported by the fact that the two groups come before and after Turner’s sketches of Staffa in the sketchbook. However, the fact that both groups contain sketches made from the hill to the south of the harbour begs the question: why Turner should return to the same spot twice. In summary, it is likely that Turner was in Tobermory twice, and he may have made sketches on both occasions.
The present sketch shows a view from the hillside above the Main Street which runs along Tobermory Bay (probably from Argyll Terrace), looking south-east over rooftops to the southern end of the bay, where the masts of several boats can be seen. There are just a few clouds in the sky above the harbour, and although we cannot see the sun’s disk Turner has included its reflection in the water below. The sun is in the east so the sketch must have been made in early morning.

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner on Mull and Staffa, 1831’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, [folios 2–3].
Ibid., [folios 11, 20].
Ibid., [folio 10].

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