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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Dumblain Abbey, Scotland c.1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Dumblain Abbey, Scotland circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVIII C
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 184 x 260 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Thomas Lupton, ‘Dumblain Abbey, Scotland.’, published Turner, 1 January 1816
The ‘abbey’ is now the parish church of Dunblane, Stirling, and is known as Dunblane Cathedral. The twelfth- and thirteenth-century building fell into partial disuse and ruin in the late sixteenth century following the 1560s Protestant reformation; the choir, beyond the present composition to the left (east), remained in use but the roof of the nave was not restored until the 1890s. Turner’s vantage point was to the north-west, with Allan Water in the foreground; there is now a railway bridge across the river just to the north, though this view remains unimpeded.
Turner’s Liber Studiorum composition is based on two pencil drawings – one in the Scotch Lakes sketchbook (Tate D03197, D03198; Turner Bequest LVI 145a–146), and the other in the Ruskin School Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,1 made on the return leg of Turner’s first tour of Scotland in 1801. The Oxford sketch was originally a leaf of the Smaller Fonthill sketchbook (some pages at Tate; Turner Bequest XLVIII); several other Liber designs were derived from the same book: Drawing of the Clyde (indirectly), Coast of Yorkshire and Rivaux Abbey (Tate D08122, D08129, D08154; Turner Bequest CXVI U, CXVII B, Z), and Solway Moss.2
The two pencil studies are from the same angle, the Ashmolean’s being larger and more detailed, though both are sketchy; Turner had recorded the shallow spire and more of the building and trees to the left of the tower, but truncated them in the Liber design and introduced another focus – the laundry activities on the river bank, possibly recorded on the spot with slight, cursive indications below the west end of the building in the Smaller Fonthill drawing.
Gillian Forrester makes a comparison with a painting by Richard Wilson, owned by Turner’s patron Dr Monro at about the time of Turner’s closest involvement with him: Tivoli, the Cascatelle and the ‘Villa of Maecenas’, circa 1752 (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London).3 Another version, now catalogued as from Wilson’s studio, was owned by Turner himself (Tate N05538).4 The similarities, limited to the general arrangement of buildings on a wooded hillside to the left and figures (artists in Wilson’s case) in the valley foreground, are perhaps only fortuitous echoes, though they are indicative of Turner’s idealising tendencies.
John Ruskin referred to the composition in his lectures, noting that Turner had simplified the details of the building in attempting to define the ‘essential character of Scotland’ with it ‘subdued and imperfect school of architecture’ reflecting ‘an infinitely tragic, feudal, pastoral, and civic history.’ He drew particular attention to the tower: ‘It is precisely that blank vacancy of decoration, and setting of the meagre angles against wind and war, which he wants to force on your notice that he may take you thoroughly out of Italy and Greece and put you wholly into a barbarous and frost-hardened land’ as a contrast to the ‘pastoral purity and innocence of life, and loveliness of nature’ of another Scottish Liber subject, Blair Athol (see Tate D08134; Turner Bequest CXVII G).5
The composition is recorded, as ‘Dunblaine’, in a list of ‘Architecture’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12168; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 29a).6
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Thomas Lupton, bears the publication date 1 January 1816 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Dumblain [sic] Abbey, Scotland.’ in part 11 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.52–56;7 see also Tate D08155, D08156; Turner Bequest CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01117) and the published engraving (A01118). It is one of eleven published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Architectural’ category (see also Tate D08110, D08115, D08118, D08126, D08131, D08135, D08142, D08154, D08160; Turner Bequest CXVI I, N, Q, Y, CXVII D, H, O, Z, CXVIII F).
There is a copy, once attributed to Turner,8 in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It came from the notoriously unreliable ‘Turner’ collection of John Anderson Junior, who drew an arrow at the bottom centre, supposedly pointing to Turner’s ‘hidden’ signature and date. However, details (particularly of the tower, figures and washing) indicate that it was taken directly from the Turner Bequest drawing rather than an impression of the print; it was probably made as a bona fide exercise when the National Gallery’s Liber drawings were on constant display during the second half of the nineteenth century.9
Herrmann 1968, p.91 no.70, pl.XLII E.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–8 no.52; 1906, pp.125–8 no.52; Finberg 1924, pp.205–8 no.52.
Forrester 1996, p.117.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.314 no.545, pl.538, among ‘Works Formerly Attributed to Turner’.
Lectures on Landscape in Cook and Wedderburn XXII 1906, pp.36, 38.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–15; 1906, pp.125–36; Finberg 1924, pp.205–24.
Pantzer 1963, pp.21–2 no.21.
Martin F. Krause, Turner in Indianapolis: The Pantzer Collection of Drawings and Watercolors by J.M.W. Turner and his Contemporaries at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis 1997, pp.106–[9] no.29, reproduced p.[107] (colour).
Technical notes:
The paper was perhaps washed in the initial stages. The figures were sketched in pencil. The paper was used wet for the sky and trees to the right; small, curving brushstrokes were used for the foliage. The lights for the figures were washed out, but there is no scratching-out. The overall mid-brown colour results from the use of a single burnt sienna pigment.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ’56 | C’ centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVIII – C’ bottom left
The left-hand three quarters of the sheet are darkened, but this does not affect the composition on the recto.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Dumblain Abbey, Scotland c.1806–7 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-dumblain-abbey-scotland-r1131760, accessed 20 June 2024.