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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Loch Coruisk, Skye 1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 39 Recto:
Loch Coruisk, Skye 1831
Turner Bequest CCLXX 39
Pencil on white wove paper, 126 x 201 x 126 mm
Inscribed in red ink by John Ruskin ‘39’ bottom left descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘CCLXX – 39’ bottom left descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Although Loch Coruisk at the south of the Cuillin Hills was Turner’s principal destination on Skye, only three views of the loch have been confidently identified: folios 38 verso, 39 and 75 verso (D26511, D26512, D26585), of which the present sketch is the most finished. Turner had been commissioned by Sir Walter Scott and his publisher Robert Cadell to paint a watercolour of Loch Coruisk to illustrate an edition of Scott’s poem from Lord of the Isles, as part of a new edition of the Poetical Works: Loch Coriskin 1831 (The National Gallery of Scotland).1
Turner entered Loch Coruisk from Scavaig River to the south (see folio 37 verso; D26509), and seems, from the evidence of his sketches, to have immediately ascended Sgurr na Stri, a mountain to the east of the loch. The summit of the mountain offered the artist a position from which he could look down on the full length of the loch and the surrounding Cuillin Hills. However, the climb was treacherous, with a note in the illustrated edition of the Poetical Works claiming that ‘but for one or two tufts of grass he must have broken his neck, having slipped when trying to attain the best position for taking the view’.2 Perhaps he was also helped by one of his fellow visitors to the loch. In his watercolour, Turner depicted himself sitting on the summit of a mountain, sketching the view alongside another figure, and there are further figures standing by the loch at the left. A sketch, perhaps made on his return from the loch, includes a small boat with three figures that must have been the one that transported him to the loch from Elgol (folio 69; D26572). If Turner explored other parts of the loch no sketches have been identified to confirm it. He did, however, make views of Loch Scavaig (folio 12; D26458) and the distant Isle of Rum (folio 34; D26502) in addition to the Coruisk sketches from the shoulder of Sgurr na Stri.
The present view was taken from just north of the summit on a steep slope which descends towards the loch. A boulder or outcrop obscures the view at the far left of the sketch, and is probably the rock depicted in the little sketch at the top right of the page; beyond that we look north-west up the length of Loch Coruisk.
Although this is Turner’s most finished sketch of the loch it did not form the basis of his watercolour, which depended on the artist’s memory and imagination rather than on any single sketch. The watercolour’s elevated view of the loch, however, may have been inspired by the present sketch, and part of the view on folio 38 verso was utilised in the watercolour. Turner supplemented his memory with the poetic descriptions of the loch by Sir Walter Scott, and the geologist John MacCulloch.3 David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan have pointed out that, rather than giving an impression of great heights, this view of the loch ‘enables us to see it rather in terms of great depth. The loch seen from above lies at the bottom of a chasm.’4 In this effect Turner was perhaps inspired by Scott’s description of the loch as a ‘Sable ravine, and dark abyss’:
Seems that primeval earthquake’s sway
Hath rent a strange and shatter’d way
Through the rude bosom of the hill5

Thomas Ardill
March 2010

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.429 no.1088
Sir Walter Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott, vol.X, ‘The Lord of the Isles’, Canto III, p.433 note 3.
See John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, p.220; and Anne Lyles, Turner: The Fifth Decade: Watercolours 1830–1840, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.48.
David Wallace–Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner on the Isle of Skye 1831’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, [folio 18].
Sir Walter Scott, The Lord of the Isles, 1815, Canto III, Stanza 14.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Loch Coruisk, Skye 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 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-loch-coruisk-skye-r1134946, accessed 04 March 2021.