Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trees, with Distant Towers beyond Water, Perhaps Edinburgh across the Water of Leith


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 241 × 304 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 238

Catalogue entry

Although painted without pencil underdrawing, the pale, layered silhouettes of the buildings on the skyline beyond a trees and a stretch of bright water are quite precisely defined. Eric Shanes has suggested that the view is of Edinburgh, comparing small pencil drawings in the 1822 King’s Visit to Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate D40687, D17643; Turner Bequest CC inside front cover, 77a),1 showing Edinburgh to the south across the Water of Leith, a ‘favourite view of Turner’s’, as Thomas Ardill remarks in his entry for D17643.
The subject remains a possibility here, although the correlation with the specified sketches in not precise enough to make the identification certain, while the date and intent of this ‘colour beginning’ are open to speculation in relation to Turner’s Scottish topographical work. Tate D25345 and D25407 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 223, 284) in the present section are loosely comparable in their combination of water, trees and distant buildings.
See Shanes 1997, p.101.
Technical notes:
There appears to be extensive staining except at the top. There are pencil lines a long way in from the edges, presumably applied by curators at an early date as a guide to ‘crop’ the more focused central area of the composition when mounting it for display.
Blank; stained brown except along the top. Inscribed in pencil ‘38’ right of centre, ascending vertically; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII | 238’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 238’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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