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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Near Blair Athol, Scotland c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Near Blair Athol, Scotland circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII G
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 185 x 262 mm
Watermark ‘1794 | J Whatman
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘Near Blair Athol Scotland’, published Turner, 1 June 1811
Turner made a pencil sketch of the scene developed here for the Liber Studiorum in the Scotch Lakes sketchbook in 1801, on his first Scottish tour (Tate D03141, D03142; Turner Bequest LVI 116a–117); there are similar studies on successive pages (for example: D03147, D03148; LVI 119a–120). They show the banks of the river Tilt near Blair Atholl, Perth and Kinross; the view remained identifiable two centuries later.1 The composition has affinities, perhaps merely coincidental in this case, with no.84 (Landscape)2 of Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis prints after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction); and also with some of Turner’s Yorkshire watercolours of a few years later.3 It has been suggested that one of the tonal ‘Scottish Pencil’ drawings (Tate D03431; Turner Bequest LVIII 52) is related to the subject.4
Ruskin recognised the site, and noted that its ‘rocks are lovely with lichen, the banks with flowers; the stream-eddies are foaming and deep. But Turner has attempted none of these minor beauties, and has put into this single scene the spirit of Scotland.’5 In a lecture, he regarded it as ‘... an extreme wonder how Turner could have made so little of so beautiful a spot’, but declared that the ‘essential character of Scotland is that of a wild and thinly inhabited rocky country, not sublimely mountainous, but beautiful in low rock and light streamlet everywhere; with sweet copsewood and rudely-growing trees.’ Referring also to the Liber composition Dumblain Abbey, Scotland (see Tate D08157; Turner Bequest CXVIII C), he asserted: ‘The chief element in both is the sadness and depth of their effect of subdued though clear light in sky and stream.’6 As has been pointed out, in the engraving the kilt which Turner often used to emphasise the Scottishness of Scottish views replaced the angler’s breeches of the drawing,7 and his nondescript headgear became a tam-o’-shanter bonnet.
The composition is recorded, as ‘8[:] 4 Scotchman’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)8 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.9 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Scotchman’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).10
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, bears the publication date 1 June 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Near Blair Athol Scotland’ in part 6 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.27–31;11 see also Tate N02941 and D08132, D08133, D08135; Turner Bequest CXVII E, F, H). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00970) and the published engraving (A00971). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08123, D08130, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI L, R, V, CXVII C, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B, G).
Davis 2002, pp.10–11 and fig.2 (photograph of the site).
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.84; from 1644 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–90: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, pp.105–6, reproduced pl.84).
See for example Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.361 nos.539 and 540, reproduced.
Francesca Irwin, Andrew Wilton, Gerald Finley and others, Turner in Scotland, exhibition catalogue, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum 1982, p.38; but see Michael D.C. Rudd, ‘A Lonely Dell Rightfully Restored to Wharfedale’, Turner Society News, no.79, September 1998, pp.7–9, relating D03431 to A Lonely Dell, Wharfedale (Leeds City Art Gallery: Wilton 1979, p.362 no.542, reproduced, as ‘A Rocky Pool, with Heron and Kingfisher’), as suggested in Finberg 1909, I, p.158, and discussed in Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.83.
‘Notes on Educational Series’ in Catalogue of Examples ..., in Cook and Wedderburn XXI 1906, p.135.
‘Lectures on Landscape’ in ibid., XXII 1906, pp.35, 38, 39.
Anne Lyles, Turner and Natural History: The Farnley Project, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.64.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.59–68; 1906, pp.69–79; Finberg 1924, pp.105–24.
Technical notes:
The paper was perhaps washed initially; a wet wash has been used to give a clearer outline to the hills which form the horizon. The sheet is slightly unfinished at the left and right edges, particularly the former, where the dark outlines of the foliage stop short. Scratching-out is used only for the rod and line;1 most of the light areas were reserved. Painted dark on dark, the watercolour washes are dense, but not medium-rich. The overall colour is a mid-brown, owing to the burnt sienna pigment.2
Townsend 1996, I, p.379; Townsend 2001, p.285.
Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Near Blair Athol, Scotland c.1808 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-near-blair-athol-scotland-r1131737, accessed 19 June 2024.