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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Frontispiece to Volume One of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland c.1822-5

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Frontispiece to Volume One of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland circa 1822–5
Turner Bequest CLXVIII A
Watercolour and pencil on light buff coloured Whatman wove paper, 243 x 176 mm
Blindstamped with the Turner Bequest stamp lower centre below the word ‘London’
Inscribed in pencil by A.J. Finberg ‘A’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXVIII A’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Executed in monochrome grey watercolour (or Indian ink) and pencil,1 this is Turner’s design for the title vignette to Volume One of the 1826 bound edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland (see also Tate D13749; Turner Bequest CLXVIII B). Turner had already produced a series of topographical watercolours to be engraved for the ten parts of the series (see 1818 Scottish Tour Introduction)2 and was commissioned by Scott to produce these vignettes to add interest to the bound edition following his visit to Edinburgh in 1822.
The image is of Edinburgh Castle, as seen from the top of the Royal Mile to the east. Turner has added the title at the top of the page, along with a Latin motto and the emblem of a thistle, and an heraldic configuration of objects at the bottom of the page. In front of the castle gate is a large crowd of people, and there is a large puff of white smoke to the right of the castle.
Gerald Finley has demonstrated that this depicts an event from the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. The event was a procession led by the King returning the Regalia of Scotland (the sword, crown and sceptre of state) to the castle. The cannon smoke indicates that the moment depicted is when George IV stepped out onto the platform of the Half Moon Battery accompanied by cannon fire.3
Turner witnessed the celebrations from inside the castle, drawing the view from the King’s apartment and the Half Moon Battery (Tate D17565; Turner Bequest CC 36a), so this design was not based on his own on-the-spot sketches. Rather it derives from a tiny thumbnail composition drawn at the back of the King at Edinburgh sketchbook as one in a series of nineteen compositions (composition ‘14’, Tate D40980; Turner Bequest CCI inside back cover). Finley has identified the source of this composition as a watercolour by James Skene which not only shows the same view, but even the same moment: James Skene, King George IV at Edinburgh Castle, circa 1822 (Edinburgh City Libraries).4 (For more information on Turner’s depiction of the royal visit, see George IV’s Visit to Edinburgh 1822 Tour Introduction.)
The collection of objects at the bottom of the page does not constitute the Scottish Regalia as Jan Piggott has suggested.5 Rather these are simply some of the trappings of Scottish, particularly highland, identity that Scott and others were promoting around this time: a sword, a sporran, a targe (the small round shield), bagpipes, and a shield with the lion rampant (the Royal Standard of Scotland).
Piggott has compared the use of this heraldic arrangement to Turner’s similar composition for the title-page vignette to Views in Sussex, 1819.6 That vignette, in fact, should be seen as a model for this one as it has a similar general layout.
The objects in the present design all have military and regal associations which are joined by the motto that Turner has added under the title: ‘NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSET’ (None will provoke me with impunity).7 This is the motto of several Scottish regiments, including the Scots Greys who were prominent at the procession and, Finley suggests, are depicted in the design as the mounted troops outside the gate.8 The addition of the Thistle and stars, however, indicate another institution is being referred to: the Order of the Thistle, of which George IV was ‘Sovereign of the Order’.9
Beneath the objects are the words ‘London’, the letter ‘P...’ and Turner’s signed initials, ‘JMWT’. However, rather than signing the picture, the initials along with the other writing are in fact part of the title. ‘P...’ was written to indicate to the engraver that he should add the publisher’s credit line at this point, but the wording and style were left to the engraver. In the engraving,10 the publisher’s details have been added, but the engraver has changed the typography and added the full title along with Scott’s name, and deleted the motto. The blank after ‘P’ may also be a product of uncertainty about who should get the credit.11
Despite the delicacy of the design, it is mainly executed in watercolour wash with very minimal additions in pencil. Even the writing is painted over a pencil guide. Turner seems to have written at least part of the world ‘PROVINCIAL’ in pencil before painting over it, but rather than writing ‘ANTIQUITIES’ he just marked where the letters should go with a series of dashes. The word ‘of’ is written in pencil and the motto has been painted over pencil writing, though what it says is not clear. The castle and crowd were executed in watercolour with no, or extremely little, pencil under-drawing, and there is just a little under-drawing in the heraldic object: a faint mark to the left of the targe, a few lines at the bottom of the shield, and some of the fur of the sporran is drawn in pencil.
Finberg 1909, I, p.488, CLXVIII A.
Thomson 1999.
Finley 1975, p.32–5; Finley 1981, p.35.
Finley 1981, pp.18–19.
Piggot 1993, p.33.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908 and 1913, p.69 no.128; Piggott 1993, p.33.
The motto is usually written as ‘Nemo me Impune Lacessit’ (No one provokes me with impunity). While the variation ‘Lacesset’ is occasionally used (for example on a 1778 $20 bill from Georgia, USA), ‘Lacessit’ is the usual spelling in the Scottish military context. It is possibly that Turner changed the word to alter the significance of the phrase, but perhaps more likely that it is simply a spelling mistake.
Finley 1975, p.35.
The Order of the Thistle is also referred to in the engraving of the vignette to volume two (see Tate D13749; Turner Bequest CLXVIII B), but not Turner’s original design.
Rawlinson 1908 and 1913, p.108 no.189.
There were two periods in which the future of the project was particularly uncertain. Early 1823 when the business began to flounder and Edward Blore was obliged to ask the shareholders for a contribution to keep the project afloat, and around 1825 when, following a national economic crash, the publishers, Rodwell and Martin, sold their share in the business to J. & A. Arch of Cornhill, whose name appeared on the engraving of Revd John Thomson of Duddingston’s Craigmillar Castle in the tenth and final number in December 1826, and on Turner’s title-page vignettes. (Thomson 1999, pp.16–17). With the uncertain prospect of the plates being published during these periods, Turner may have refrained from inscribing Rodwell and Martin’s name on his design, suggesting that the designs were painted during one of these two periods. It is also possible, however, that Turner simply left the engraver to add the publisher’s credit as he saw fit.
Technical notes:
The page is watermarked at the bottom right ‘TMAN | 15’ (inverted). This is part of a longer watermark, probably ‘Whatman | 1815’.

Thomas Ardill
December 2009

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Frontispiece to Volume One of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland c.1822–5 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 2009, 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-frontispiece-to-volume-one-of-the-provincial-antiquities-and-r1140411, accessed 23 May 2024.