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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ruins of Dunbar 1818

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 23 Verso:
Ruins of Dunbar 1818
Turner Bequest CLXV 23a
Pencil on white laid paper, 99 x 159 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ?‘Tka’ top centre
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This drawing shows the ruins of Dunbar Castle, a subject that Turner made numerous sketches of from various angles in preparation for his illustration to Scott’s Provincial Antiquities: Dunbar, watercolour, circa 1823 (private collection).1 This drawing shows the ruins from the east, as in Turner’s illustration. The castle extends into the sea and it is difficult to tell which parts are rock and which are masonry, as both are of the same red colour and have been similarly demolished or decayed. This ambiguity offered Turner countless possibilities of how to depict the ruins, and gave him the opportunity to compare the work of man and of nature. In this drawing he makes the distinction between natural and man-made quite clear, using a relatively light, straight line accompanied by shading to show the castle, and a freer jagged line to show the outline of the rocks.
Although the large number of sketches Turner felt compelled to make of this subject may suggest that he was struggling to find a suitable composition, it is significant to note that he remains very focused on the castle and rocks, in most cases ignoring the nearby town. A notable exception is the drawing on the next page (folio 24; D13365; CLXV 24) in which we see Dunbar Castle as well as the town, harbour and hills in the distance.

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.426 no.1066.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Ruins of Dunbar 1818 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, October 2007, 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-ruins-of-dunbar-r1131906, accessed 19 January 2022.