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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Part of the Ceremony of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill 1822

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 28 Verso:
Part of the Ceremony of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill 1822
Turner Bequest CC 28a
Pencil on white wove paper, 187 x 114 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner
‘Red [?]hat | [?]Belt White | [?]uniform’ top left; ‘G[...] Red w[...]’ top right; ‘Band uniform | Red | w’ upper left and ‘Red’ upper centre; ‘H G[?]uard’ to the left and ‘Band’ to the right of the diamond shape
Blindstamped with the Turner bequest stamp upper centre right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Drawn with the sketchbook turned to the right is the seventh in a sequence of eight sketches recording the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument on Calton Hill on 27 August 1822 (see folio 22 verso; D17540). It is important to note with this sketch that Turner’s aim was not to create a composition, but to record the changing aspects of the scene as the events of the ceremony unfolded, and simultaneously to note details of interest such as the uniforms of the band and soldiers. Thus, the drawing on this page represents a shorthand sketch of objects of interest. These different parts can be difficult to unravel, with little help from Turner’s cryptic handwriting and short forms.
One aspect of this sketch that Finley does not go into is its diagrammatic character. He has assumed that its disparate appearance is a result of Turner’s disregard for the overall appearance of the scene in front of him – or in fact beneath him (he was sketching from a tower) – in his attempt ‘to combine both a record of an evolving process and a crystallization of an isolated instant’.1 While this explanation holds true and helps to explain the sketch’s relation to the other studies in the sequence, it misses the full significance of the drawing as a study in its own right by ignoring the relationship of the different parts. The key is the square or diamond grid in the centre of the drawing which divides the ground on which the ceremony was held into five or six different parts occupied by different objects and people. The grid helps to demonstrate that the scene is viewed from above, with the squares slightly squashed by foreshortening. This also explains why most of the figures appear to have no legs or feet.
At the top of the page is a row of figures seated at a table on a platform to the east of the foundations. As in other sketches made from the tower of Nelson’s Monument, they appear above the site of the stone (see folio 25 verso; D17546). Significant players on this stand were the Duke of Hamilton and the Duke of Atholl, who may be the two prominent and slightly larger figures at the centre of this group.
Beneath this is the grid of four squares and at the bottom another square area of dashes. In each of these squares is a figure or inscription, and it seems that these represent who or what was in this quadrant of the event ground. In the top quadrant is a figure in a large ‘red’ bonnet and a kilt. He may be one of the highlanders involved in the procession to Calton Hill, one of the accompanying troops or a member of one of the Masonic lodges who took part in the ceremony. The single figure probably stands in for a multitude.
In the left quadrant is a figure in ‘band uniform’ (see folio 27 verso; D17550) of ‘red’ and ‘w[hite]’, a bonnet, cross straps or a medallion around his neck, a kilt and a sporran with a thistle design on it. The bottom quarter of the right quadrant is marked off with a dotted line and inscribed ‘band’ indicating where the band were stationed during the ceremony. Also in this quadrant are two figures, perhaps members of the band or guards. The bottom quadrant is empty and may represent the pit where the foundation stone was laid. Beneath this a row of dashes is inscribed ‘H Guard’. This may indicate rows of highland guards, assembled on Calton Hill, an image that inspired Turner to paint a watercolour design for Fisher’s Illustrations to the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott: Edinburgh Castle, March of the Highlanders, circa 1836 (Tate N04953).
Other, separate, but related studies – which may also be dispersed on the page according to their relative position at the ceremony – are the backs of two figures at the top right of the page, both wearing ‘red hat[s]’ and bags slung from their ‘white’ ‘belt[s]’ across their shoulders. Beneath them is a study of three objects – one supported by a figure – which may be lamps on poles judging by the emanating rays from the one on the right. These may have been associated with the Masonic procession. There is also at the bottom of the sketches an obscure shape that may also be a lamp or staff supported by a figure.

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Finley 1981, p.30.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Part of the Ceremony of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill 1822 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, October 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-part-of-the-ceremony-of-the-laying-of-the-foundation-stone-r1132893, accessed 24 January 2022.