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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Fingal's Cave, Staffa 1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Fingal’s Cave, Staffa 1831
Turner Bequest CCCXLI a 284
Pencil on light-grey wove paper, 152 x 232 mm
Inscribed in red ink by John Ruskin ‘284’ bottom-right
Stamped in black ‘CCCXLI – 284’ bottom-right
Blindstamped with the Turner Bequest stamp upper-left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
David Wallace-Hadrill seems to have been the first person to notice that this and another loose-leaf sketch (Tate D34002; Turner Bequest CCCXLI a) resemble drawings Turner made of the inside of Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland.1 In particular, the current sketch resembles a view of the cave mouth in the Staffa sketchbook (Tate D26798; Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 29a). Although the current sketch was very rapidly executed, the artist’s scribbled lines were enough to remind him of the volcanic basalt columns that line the walls of the cave. This is more evident in D34002 which is more finished.
Although the sketching style is very similar to the sketches in the Staffa sketchbook, suggesting that the two loose-leaf drawings were also made on the spot, the fact that the pages do not belong to a sketchbook, and that the light-grey paper was used by Turner for a number of unconnected studies, suggest that they are studies based on the sketchbook drawings. Therefore it is possible that Turner made these in the studio while preparing his vignette illustrations to Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, volume 10 of a new edition of his Poetical Works: Fingal’s Cave, Staffa circa 1833–4 (whereabouts unknown).2
Additional sheets relating to Fingal’s Cave (Tate D34015–D34017; Turner Bequest CCCXLI a 297, 298, 298v) were identified in 2016.
David Wallace-Hadrill, ‘North if Inverness 1831’ (folder), Tate catalogue files.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1089.
The page is blank, except for pencil inscriptions in an unknown hand ‘284’ bottom-right and ? ‘241 | o’ top-left inverted.

Thomas Ardill
May 2010

Revised by Matthew Imms
September 2016

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Fingal’s Cave, Staffa 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2010, revised by Matthew Imms, September 2016, 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-fingals-cave-staffa-r1135615, accessed 15 January 2021.