J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders c.1834-5

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders circa 1834–5
Watercolour on white wove paper, 86 x 140 mm
Bequeathed by R.H. Williamson 1938
Thomas Higham after J.M.W. Turner, Edinburgh – March of the Highlanders, published 1836, Engraving on paper (Tate T06274)
?John Morley, sold at Christie’s, 16 May 1896 (23).
Bought by McLean.
Humphrey Roberts, sold at Christie’s, 23 May 1908 (293).
Bought by Leggatt.
R.H. Williamson.
Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders is a small watercolour painted by Turner around 1834–5 and engraved by Thomas Higham as an illustration to G.N. Wright’s Landscape – Historic Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverly Novels, which was published by Fisher and Co. in 1836.1 The picture is used as an illustration to Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, and is accompanied in Fisher’s publication with a passage from that novel, describing the mustering of an army of Highlanders during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 as witnessed by the eponymous protagonist Waverley:
When Waverley had surmounted a small craggy eminence, called St Leonard’s Hill, the King’s Park, or the hollow between the mountain of Arthur’s Seat and the rising grounds on which the southern part of Edinburgh is now built, lay beneath him, and displayed a singular and animating prospect. It was occupied by the army of Highlander’s preparing for their march.2
Rather than the plane between Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh, Turner set his scene on Calton Hill just to the north of the place described in Scott’s novel. A gathering of tartan-clad Highlanders cover the hill and fill the foreground of this view west over Edinburgh with the castle looming above the city. The artist has set the scene in his own age with the North Bridge in the middle-distance and the modern buildings of the New Town at the right.
Similarities between the passage from Waverley quoted by Fisher and the painting suggest that the artist was familiar with the text and drew on it to inform his design. Scott’s writing is at times so pictorial that it could almost be a description of the illustration, rather than the other way round:
While getting into order, they exhibited a changing, fluctuating, confused appearance of waving tartans and floating plumes, and of banners displaying the proud gathering-word of each clan. At length the mixed and wavering multitude arranged themselves into a narrow and dusky column of great length, stretching through the whole extent of the vale.3
Turner depicts these narrow columns of Highlanders filling the foreground as Scott described, and creates the effect of a sea of tartan, swords and banners as suggested by Scott. Wright praised Turner’s picture as an appropriate illustration to the text:
No drawing can be more correct, no filling-up more perfect, no colouring more warm and deep: the calm sense of nature is exquisitely touched; the continuous motion of the legions advancing solemnly towards the field of battle powerfully narrated; the sound of the departing feet seem to vibrate on the ear.4
Gerald Finley, however, has argued that the scene does not describe Waverley’s March of the Highlanders, or at least not literally, but rather depicts a more recent event that the artist himself had witnessed. In August 1822, Turner went to Edinburgh to see the royal visit of King George IV to Scotland, and to sketch the parades and pageants that had been laid on in celebration.5 One of the events that Turner witnessed was the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, and the parade of infantry that preceded it (Tate D17540; Turner Bequest CC 22a). Although Turner seems not to have made any sketches of the parade itself, Finley has identified one of the nineteen tiny composition studies at the back of The King at Edinburgh sketchbook as representing ‘the procession advancing towards the top of the hill’ (Tate D40979; Turner Bequest: CCI 43a), which formed the basis of the design for March of the Highlanders.6 This sketch consists of little more than a few scribbled forms, but these correspond well to the mass of soldiers at the right of the watercolour and the outline of the city with Edinburgh Castle at the left. The view of Edinburgh derives from a sketch across two pages of the other sketchbook used by Turner in Scotland in 1822, the King’s Visit to Edinburgh sketchbook: Tate D17563–D17564 (Turner Bequest CC 35a–36).
Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders thus combines a literary description with a witnessed recent event. While the picture does not perfectly illustrate either (as noted above, the setting of Calton Hill is wrong for Waverley, and the depiction of Highlanders rather than Scot’s Greys, 3rd Dragoons and the Royal Company of Archers is inaccurate as a representation of the 1822 parade), it nevertheless refer to both events. This may have been a strategy by Turner to illustrate the novel while paying tribute to the life of the author. Scott is implicated in Turner’s reference to the parade by his involvement in devising the events surrounding the King’s visit. In fact, it was he who wrote to the Highland Chiefs on 22 July 1822, inviting them to bring troops of Clansmen to attend the ceremonies and parades.7 The presence of the Highlanders on Calton Hill is therefore at Scott’s behest and they act as a tribute to him in this painting. Turner, along with many of the other people who witnessed the event in 1822, must have recognised the similarity in appearance between the parade and the March of the Highlanders scene in Waverley. This was no coincidence. Scott in 1822 set out to present to the King and the world a sense of Scottish national identity based on his novels, poetry and other writings; a phenomenon that Stuart Kelly has described as inventing the nation of ‘Scott-land’.8 Turner continues this process in his watercolour by blurring the boundary between literature and life, representing a novel and a nation in a single image.
March of the Highlanders is executed in predominantly blue watercolour with no sign of pencil under-drawing, though pencil has been used along with finely painted grey lines to define details, especially in the buildings of the Old Town at the left and the castle. Red watercolour and some blue and black have been used for very fine details of the Highlanders’ clothes, with small areas of yellow for their targes (shields) and some green, mainly for the figure at the left. The sky is painted in a single shade of blue (slightly faded) with different cloud effects created by lifting out the colour while it was still wet with a brush (for streaks of cloud to the left of the castle) and with something like bread (for dappled clouds at the top left). Dry paint has been scraped out to reveal the white paper beneath to suggest smoke under the bridge arches and above the troops at the centre right, and for white highlights on the bonnets, sporrans and stockings of the troops.
Although the city in the background looks at first glance quite generalised, a comparison with the engraving reveals that there is in fact a great deal of specific detail, though a slight muddying of the watercolour has made this less apparent. The engraving is almost the same size as the original watercolour (84 x 133 mm), making it straightforward for Higham to translate into print. Turner was very familiar with this view, having sketched the city from the top of Calton Hill in 1818 (Tate D13430, D13651–D13652; Turner Bequest CLXV 59 a, CLXVII 39a–40), and 1834 (Tate D26411; Turner Bequest CCLXIX 79a), as well as in 1822. He had also painted the view for the Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, another publication by Walter Scott: Edinburgh from Calton Hill, circa 1819 (watercolour, National Gallery of Scotland).9
Wilton 1979, p.434 no.1134; Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, p.298 no.560.
Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, 1814, Chapter 44 The March, quoted in G[eorge] N[ewenham] Wright, Landscape – Historic Illustrations of Scotland and the Waverly Novels, London 1936, p.11.
Ibid., p.12.
Gerald Finley, Turner and George the Fourth in Edinburgh 1822, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1981.
Ibid., p.37.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.104.
Stuart Kelly, Scott-land: The Man who Invented a Nation, Edinburgh 2010.
Wilton 1979, p.426 no.1062.
Technical notes:
The condition of this watercolour is generally very good, though the blue of the sky has faded and the paper has yellowed a little, making the delineation less clear and the colour less jewel-like than it must once have been. The support is glued onto a larger piece of modern white wove paper measuring 183 x 298 mm.

Thomas Ardill
June 2011

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders c.1834–5’, catalogue entry, June 2011, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/edinburgh-castle-march-of-the-highlanders-r1136449, accessed 18 February 2019.