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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Heriot's Hospital: View from the South-West with Edinburgh Castle 1834

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 81 Recto:
Heriot’s Hospital: View from the South-West with Edinburgh Castle 1834
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 81
Pencil on white wove paper, 111 x 181 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘12’ left, ‘10’ lower centre right
Inscribed in red ink by John Ruskin ‘81’ top right running vertically
Stamped in black ‘CCLXVIII – 81’ top right running vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This highly detailed and beautifully rendered drawing of Heriot’s Hospital school was made from the grounds to the south-east; Edinburgh Castle, which lies about four hundred metres away to the north, can be seen at the right.
The school, described by Sir Walter Scott as ‘one of the proudest ornaments of Edinburgh’,1 is reputed to have been designed by Inigo Jones,2 though the architects were in fact William Wallace and William Aytoun; it was completed by about 1650. Turner had sketched the building in 1818 (Tate D13744; Turner Bequest CLXVII 86) in preparation for a watercolour which was engraved to illustrate Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland: Heriot’s Hospital, circa 1819 (National Gallery of Scotland).3
The time and effort dedicated to this sketch suggests that Turner considered the subject as having the potential for a painting. Gerald Finley has suggested that Heriot’s Hospital may have been considered as a suitable illustration to The Fortunes of Nigel in the new edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Prose Works.4 According to the publisher Robert Cadell’s diary, he discussed the choice of remaining subjects to be sketched by Turner in preparation for the Prose Works on the morning of 1 October, before accompanying him to Heriot’s Hospital.
In addition to the drawing of the building, which itself contains a wealth of architectural detail, Turner drew a series of architectural features at the top of the page. These all help to clarify smaller details in the main sketch.
At the left of the page is a sketch of a baluster with the note ‘12’. This is one of the twelve balusters that make up each section of the balustrade that surrounds the terrace around the school. Turner has drawn a few of these at the far left of the terrace to give an impression of the look of the whole, but contented himself with vertical dashes to indicate others, or simply left blank space between the pillars. He noted that there are ‘10’ sections of balustrade between the two sets of steps at the left of the sketch.
At the bottom centre-left of the page is a section of architecture that probably represents a typical window of the school. In his description of the building, Water Scott noted that Dr Walter Balconquel, one of the executors of George Heriot’s will, ‘insisted, that the architrave and ornaments of each particular window should differ in some particular from those of all the rest; but such was the skill and management of the architect, that though these distinctions can easily be observed on close examination, the front, viewed as a whole, presents the appearance of perfect uniformity.’5 Turner has taken note of these ‘distinctions’, drawing two examples at the top left of the page. The first includes an architrave and has a scroll pediment, while to its right is a broken pediment with a ball at the apex.
This diversity extends to the gothic arched windows either side of the central tower on the southern façade and the two small rose windows above them. Turner has recorded the different designs of the two arched windows in small sketches positioned roughly above the windows on the building, with the rose windows above and a little to the right of these. Between the two rose windows is a sketch of the finial at the top of the spire of the western tower, and to the right is the finial of the southern tower. A small detail to the right of this may represent the shape of the crow-step flying buttresses, which can be seen on each roof. At the top centre of the page are three further detail sketches. The left may be the parapet along the south-east tower, drawn on its side; the centre detail looks like the parapet around the clock tower directly beneath it, and the sketch at the right may be the top of the tall chimney pots.
Turner has drawn Edinburgh castle in slightly less detail, but has still marked in the main architectural features of the separate buildings. There are various close-up studies of the castle elsewhere in this sketchbook (see folio 79; D26245).
Further sketches of Heriot’s Hospital are on folios 78, 79 and 80 (D26243, D26245, D26246) of this sketchbook, and in the Stirling and Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate D26334; Turner Bequest CCLXIX 39a).
There is a grey smudge at the bottom left of the page.

Thomas Ardill
November 2010

Walter Scott, ‘Heriot’s Hospital from the West Bow’, The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, Vol.VII, Provincial Antiquities, Edinburgh and London 1834, p.262.
Ibid., p.261.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1064.
Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, pp.182, 258 note 46. Although the school’s founder, George Heriot, appears as a character in the novel, the school does not feature in the main text at all. Scott, however, does mention the founding of the school in his introduction to the novel (Walter Scott, The Fortunes of Nigel, 1822). This novel has been credited with ‘awakening a deep interest in the public mind in favour of George Heriot’ (William Steven, History of George Heriot’s Hospital, with a Memoir of the Founder Together with an Account of The Heriot Foundation Schools, new edition revised and enlarged by Fredrick W. Bedford, Edinburgh and London 1859, p.27).
Scott 1834, p.263.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Heriot’s Hospital: View from the South-West with Edinburgh Castle 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2010, 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-heriots-hospital-view-from-the-south-west-with-edinburgh-r1136175, accessed 26 August 2019.