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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Sir Walter Scott's Visit to the 'Royal George'; Sketches of Leith from the Firth of Forth 1822

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 62 Recto:
Sir Walter Scott’s Visit to the ‘Royal George’; Sketches of Leith from the Firth of Forth 1822
Turner Bequest CC 62
Pencil on white wove paper, 114 x 187 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ?‘Firth’ top centre, ‘Calton’ bottom left, ?‘Granton’ bottom centre left
Faint signs of John Ruskin’s red ink inscription ?‘62’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CC 62’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This page records Sir Walter Scott’s barge rowing out to visit the Royal George in Leith Roads on 14 August 1822: the event that Gerald Finley calls, The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, and has identified as the basis of Turner’s title-page vignette for volume two of the 1826 edition of The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland.1 The subject was used as the first composition of Turner’s proposed ‘Royal Progress’ series (see Tate D40979; Turner Bequest CCI 43a).2
There are three sketches on the page: in the middle, a view of the royal squadron in Leith Roads, and at the top, and continuing at the bottom, a view of Leith with Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills beyond from the Firth of Forth.
The royal squadron sketch includes two identifiable ships, the King’s yacht, the Royal George, in the centre of the picture, and Admiral John Beresford’s flagship, HMS Dover (see folio 61 verso; D17614) at the right. In addition it becomes apparent, by comparing the sketch to Turner’s vignette design, that the marks to the left of the Royal George denote Admiral Beresford’s barge conveying Sir Walter Scott to the King’s yacht (see folio 49 verso; D17590). Although it is in itself slightly obscure, with reference to the vignette design this sketch can be understood to show the recent arrival of the boats of the royal squadron with Sir Walter Scott coming to meet the king. This narrative is emphasised in the vignette by the motif of two clasped hands. The vignette design takes the middle part of the sketch, leaving out HMS Dover to the right and replacing it with masts partially obscured by cannon smoke.
The panoramic view of Leith starts at the top of the page with the eastern half of Leith, and continues at the bottom with the western half. Dominating the top sketch are the outlines of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, with Nelson’s Monument and Calton Gaol on top. There is a very slight overlap with the sketch at the bottom of the page which shows ‘Calton’ Gaol again at the left, with the open crown spire of St Giles’s Cathedral on the skyline, ‘Granton’ Harbour below and the Pentland Hills in the background.
Although the vignette does include a view of Leith in the background, it was not, in fact, based on this present sketch, but on other drawings in the sketchbook, principally folio 11 (D17528). For the Royal George Turner also drew upon an etching of the vessel by James Miller Huggins (see folio 4; D17514).
Butlin and Joll suggest that the unfinished oil, The Mission of Sir Walter Scott, circa 1823 (Tate N02879),3 ‘seems to be based’ on this drawing. The painting may take its background (which is rather faint) from the top of this sketch, and while the subject may match, compositionally they have little in common. A sketch with a closer composition to the oil is on folio 68 (D17625).
Other sketches that depict Scott’s visit to the Royal George (besides those mentioned above) are on folios 68 verso and 69 verso, and perhaps also on folio 69 (D17626, D17627, D17628).

Thomas Ardill
August 2008

Finley 1981, p.85.
Ibid., p.32.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.153 no. 248a.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Sir Walter Scott’s Visit to the ‘Royal George’; Sketches of Leith from the Firth of Forth 1822 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-sir-walter-scotts-visit-to-the-royal-george-sketches-of-r1132956, accessed 17 February 2020.