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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Smailholm Tower 1831

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 82 Verso:
Smailholm Tower 1831
Turner Bequest CCLXVII 84a
Pencil on off-white wove writing paper, 113 x 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner made three watercolour vignettes based on his sketches of Smailholm Tower in the Abbotsford sketchbook, all based on different sketches. The present sketch formed the basis of Turner’s design, Smailholm Tower circa 1832 (whereabouts unknown),1 for volume 1 of Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works, the project that he had come to Scotland to discuss and prepare sketches for. The artist made the trip to Smailholm with Scott and his publisher, Robert Cadell on 6 August 1831.2
The view is from a path to the south-west and shows the structure standing on a crag, with the tower itself still fairly intact, though the courtyard wall around its base is more ruinous. The sketch continues slightly onto folio 83 (D26078; CCLXVII 85) where part of Sandyknowe Farm is visible. The details of the tower were followed closely in the watercolour, although Turner made it appear more elevated, added further crags in the foreground from memory, and added figures and grazing cows from his imagination.
Turner’s two other watercolour vignettes of Smailholm were also made in connection to Scott; indeed both include the author himself in the picture. These were Smailholm Tower and Sandyknowe Farm 1832 (Courtauld Gallery, London), known as the ‘Gift’ or ‘Presentation’ picture, which was based on the sketch on folio 81 verso (D26075; CCLXVII 83a); and Sandy Knowe or Smailholm Tower circa 1838 (Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, New York),3 made for Lockhart’s Life of Scott and based on folio 83 verso (D26079; CCLXVII 85a).
Further sketches of Smailholm in this sketchbook appear on folios 82, 83, 84, 90 and 90 verso (D26076, D26078, D26080, D26092, D26093; CCLXVII 84, 85, 86, 92, 92a).

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.427 no.1071.
As recorded by Cadell in his diary, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, 6 August 1831, folios 106–7, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc. 5188, Box 1; reproduced in Gerald E. Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner and Sir Walter Scott: Iconography of a Tour’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.31, 1972, pp.380–381.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.435 no.1140.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Smailholm Tower 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2009, 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-smailholm-tower-r1134445, accessed 17 October 2021.