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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Oban 1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 58 Verso:
Oban 1831
Turner Bequest CCLXXIII 58a
Pencil on white wove paper, 116 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
For Turner, the town of Oban on the west coast of Argyll was the gateway to the Western Isles of Scotland, serving as the base for excursions to Skye, Mull and Staffa. He arrived there by land, having travelled from Inveraray to Taynuilt and along Loch Etive. Oban and Oban Bay feature in a number of sketches of Dunollie Castle and the Sound of Kerrera, and Turner made sketches of the town itself seen from the coast to the north and south, and from either side of the bay.
There are sketches of Oban on the following pages of this sketchbook: folios 57, 58–60, 79 verso, 80, 93 verso, 96, 96 verso (D26852, D26854–D26858, D26597, D26898, D26925, D26930, D26931), and in the Sound of Mull No.1 sketchbook: Tate D41019, D26936, D26940, D26942 (Turner Bequest CCLXXIV Inside front cover, 1, 3 and 4).
This page is one of four in the Staffa sketchbook that contains views of the town from Oban Bay (folios 58–59 verso). The view at the top of the page is from across the bay to the north, looking towards the quay at the south of the bay with various buildings and, at the centre of the sketch, the arched opening of the outfall near the present railway pier.1 The disturbance of the water caused by the outflow is indicated by a series of pencil lines. The boats at the left are moored at Oban Pier.
At the bottom of the sketch are a group of seven figures. Five at the left look across the bay as Turner did, and two more at the right walk arm-in-arm. Typically of Turner’s sketchbook figures, these are drawn sketchily, but a few simple attributes add a great deal of local colour to the scene. The mixture of male and female figures suggest an informal social gathering, and a Scottish Highland flavour is added by the tartan trews of the fourth figure to the left.
There are further studies of figure groups below. At the bottom left is a group of five or so figures standing in a circle. Two women sit to their right, and a group made up of one sitting and two standing women are drawn to the right of them. There are further groups on folios 58 and 59. A sketch at the bottom left of the page is inscribed ‘Furniture’, and seems to show various objects stacked on what may be a cart. An inscription to the right of that has been read as ‘Colts tyed [tied] together’;2 these may be the horses that pulled the cart, though they are not drawn.
At the bottom right of the page, drawn with the sketchbook turned to the left, is another sketch of Oban Bay, this time looking towards the south-west part of the bay from the quay, with boats at the right and the shoulder of Pulpit Hill (see folio 97 verso) at the left.

Thomas Ardill
February 2010

Identified by David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner on Mull and Staffa, 1831’ (unpublished manuscript), [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, folio 17.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.126 cat.452.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Oban 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, February 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-oban-r1135212, accessed 20 May 2022.