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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Roslin Castle 1818

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 69 Recto:
Roslin Castle 1818
Turner Bequest CLXVII 66
Pencil on white wove paper, 112 x 186 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘[?F/T/J...]’ left; ‘3 | 2 | 26 | 6 | 13 | 77’ centre
Inscribed in blue ink ‘66’ top right
Stamped in black ‘CLXVII 66’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Although Finberg did not acknowledge it,1 this page has subsequently become recognised as the basis of Turner’s watercolour of Roslin Castle, circa 1820 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).2 Like several of the castles included in Scott’s Provincial Antiquities (Dunbar, Tantallon and Linlithgow Palace to some extent, as well as the proposed but unpublished Blackness Castle), Roslin was located at a spot that would offer the protection of water on three sides. Thus the castle was built on a promontory into the North Esk River, with steep rocky banks on three sides. The castle was further defended by breaching the fourth side with a ditch, originally bridged by a drawbridge. The castle was first built in the early fourteenth century, though suffering several fires and attacks it had to be rebuilt at various times. Roslin held a special significance for Scott who had lived in a cottage on the Esk below the castle, and had written about it in his poem the Gray Brother.3 Turner first visited the site in 1801, and returned in 1818 to gather sketches for an illustration for the Provincial Antiquities.
In this sketch the castle is seen from the bottom of Roslin Glen to the south. The River Esk splashes around large boulders in the foreground, fed by a waterfall that is shown, though not obviously, in this sketch on the right. The castle is at the top of a heavily wooded and rocky bank, partially hidden by trees which are identified as ‘ash’ on folio 68 verso (D13703; CLXVII 65a). At the left of the castle are the ruins of the keep, and the main visible structure is the late sixteenth century East Range (a more detailed sketch of which was made in the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook, Tate D13576; Turner Bequest CLXVI 65a). To the left of the castle, at the very edge of the page Rosslyn (as it tends to be spelled) Chapel can just be seen from between the trees.
The viewpoint is identical to the watercolour, although that work places the castle towards the centre of the picture, giving it and the chapel more space in the composition. The castle appears larger in the watercolour as it is less foreshortened by perspective, and its masses are simplified by the use of a limited range of tones. The waterfall is revealed in the watercolour, while it is screened by trees in the sketch, and some of the boulders are moved around, with more added in the left foreground. Some of these changes are hinted at in a rough sketch in the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook (Tate D13500l; Tuner Bequest CLXVI 26a) which has informed the overall compositional layout of the watercolour. Comparable viewpoints also exist in the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook (Tate D13524 and D13525; Turner Bequest CLXVI 38a and 39). There is a similar view of the castle on the previous sketchbook page (folio 68 verso), although that sketch was made from closer to, and pays more attention to the rocks and trees than to the castle.

Thomas Ardill
March 2008

Finberg 1909, I, p.487, CLXVII 66.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1065.
Krause 1997, p.138. Roslin is also refers to in Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, see Thomson 1999, p.91.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Roslin Castle 1818 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 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-roslin-castle-r1132251, accessed 06 December 2021.