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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Study of 'The Royal George', King George IV's Yacht 1822

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 4 Recto:
A Study of ‘The Royal George’, King George IV’s Yacht 1822
Turner Bequest CC 4
Pencil on white wove paper, 114 x 187 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘White masts’ centre; across the boat from left to right: ‘Gold on Blue Ground’ ‘Blue [?]deck’ | ‘w’ ‘6 ports’ ‘5’ | ‘Black’
Inscribed in red ink by John Ruskin ‘4’ bottom right
Blindstamped with the with the Turner Bequest stamp bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CC 4’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner’s drawing of a boat, identified by Gerald Finley as the King’s yacht the Royal George, is drawn in a diagrammatic manner with descriptive inscriptions. As Turner has indicated, the boat had three ‘white masts’, and while he has left out the spars, he has indicated the gaff on the mizzen mast and the jib boom on the bowsprit. As the writer for ‘a London Journal’ commented, the vessel’s exterior was ‘distinguished for its symmetry rather than for its embellishments’.1 So, despite the sparseness of Turner’s sketch, it was not much simplified. In fact Captain Charles Adam boasted to the Grant family that although his command, the Royal Sovereign, was the King’s old yacht, it was in fact more magnificent than the Royal George.2
The vessel was painted ‘Blue’ at the top and stern with a band of ‘Gold on [a] Blue Ground’ towards the top of the hull. Beneath this at the level of the cannon embrasures is a ‘w[hite]’ band, and beneath this the hull is ‘Black’, and, images by others artists reveal,3 red at the very bottom. Turner notes ‘6 Ports’ (portholes), although there are more than that in total, and ‘5’ of another feature (it is not clear what).
This study, and others in the sketchbook (folios 5 verso, 7, 73, and 73 verso; D17517, D17520, D17635, D17636) formed the basis of two unfinished oil paintings and a vignette. The paintings have been identified by Gerald Finley as The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, circa 1823 (Tate N02879)4 and The King’s Departure from the ‘Royal George’ in the Royal Barge, circa 1823 (Tate N02880);5 both apparently include the Royal George. Edinburgh from Leith Harbour or The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, was designed as the title-page vignette for volume 2 of the 1826 edition of The Provincial Antiquities, circa 1825 (Tate D13749), and was based on drawings in this sketchbook (see folio 62; D17615), although Turner may also have seen an etching of the vessel by James Miller Huggins made in 1824, to which it bears a striking resemblance.6
The Royal George also appears among the royal squadron in sketches on folios 68, 71 and 72 verso (D17625, D17631, D17634), and perhaps also on folios 53, 66, 70 and 76 verso (D17597, D17621, D17629, D17641).

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Quoted by Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, pp.65–6.
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and twenty daft days’, Edinburgh 1988, p.326.
William C Cluett, Royal George Royal yacht of their Majesties George IV William IV & Queen Victoria, circa 1900 (watercolour, National Maritime Museum).
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.153–4 no.248a.
Ibid., p.154 no.248b.
I am grateful to Pieter van der Merwe for his advice on Huggins and his suggestion that Turner could have had access to the plate, perhaps purchasing a copy from Huggins’s Leadenhall Street premises. Turner also utilised William John Huggins’s pictures of Whalers in Elhanan Bicknell’s collection as the basis of his own paintings around 1845. Pieter van der Merwe, ‘Huggins, William John (1781–1845), marine painter’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 14 August 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/14053?docPos=9.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘A Study of ‘The Royal George’, King George IV’s Yacht 1822 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-study-of-the-royal-george-king-george-ivs-yacht-r1132855, accessed 30 May 2024.