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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Calton Hill, and a Woman Carrying a Basket 1818

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 64 Recto:
Calton Hill, and a Woman Carrying a Basket 1818
Turner Bequest CLXV 62
Pencil on white laid paper, 99 x 159 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘coal’ top left
Stamped in black ‘CLXV 62’ top right running vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
There are two sketches on this page: the base of Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill, and a study of a woman carrying a basket on her back and wearing a tartan skirt, the pattern of which is only partially drawn.
The sketch of Nelson’s Monument is very slight, and Finberg’s identification as ‘Calton Hill’ is presumably based on the more easily identifiable sketches on the previous and following pages in this sketchbook. The combination of castellated base, central tower, and its location on the edge of a hill all also point to Nelson’s Monument as the subject. Turner sketched the building in more detail elsewhere in this sketchbook (folios 54 verso, 61, 62 verso; D13416, D13429, D13432; CLXV 52a, 59, 60a).
The figure, seen from behind and carrying a basket on her back, takes a stance that Turner draws several times in this sketchbook. There are similar figures in this (folio 53; D13413; CLXV 51) and in the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook (folio 67; Tate D13579; Turner Bequest CLXVI 67), and an almost identical figure, though a little less stooped, stands at the edge of a group of conversing women on the left of Turner’s High Street, Edinburgh design for the Provincial Antiquities, circa 1818 (watercolour, Yale Centre for British Art).1 Finberg reads Turner’s inscription as ‘coal’, and so assumes that this is what the woman is carrying.2 However, the word looks more like ‘coaly’, and this could provide an alternative reading. Coaly, more often spelled ‘coley’ and sometimes called ‘coalfish’, is a member of the cod family, and a type of fish that is caught off the east coast of Scotland during the autumn months. It is not clear from the High Street, Edinburgh watercolour or engraving whether she is carrying coal, fish, or, indeed either.

Thomas Ardill
November 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1061.
Finberg 1909, I, p.480, CLXV 62.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Calton Hill, and a Woman Carrying a Basket 1818 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2007, 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-calton-hill-and-a-woman-carrying-a-basket-r1131981, accessed 04 March 2021.