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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Isle of May 1818

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 4 Verso:
The Isle of May 1818
Turner Bequest CLXV 4a
Pencil on white laid paper, 99 x 159 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘May’ top centre
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner’s inscription, ‘May’, tells us that this sheet shows the small Isle of May, which lies about five miles from mainland Scotland in the mouth of the Forth between Crail in the north and Berwick in the south. Although the island was not on Scott’s list of Antiquities it is not surprising that Turner drew it since it would have held both contemporary and historic interest for the artist. The new lighthouse had recently been built (1816) by Robert Stevenson in the style of a gothic castle, and the island was home to one of the earliest Christian churches in Scotland, built in the ninth century on the site of an ancient burial mound.
The top two sketches show the island from the south, probably from North Berwick, with prominence given to the tower of the lighthouse. The bottom sketch may show the coastline around Auldhame near North Berwick from the Scoughall Rocks with Tantallon Castle represented by two rough squares, and rocks behind. A similar view is sketched at the bottom of folio 3 verso (D13326; CLXV 3a).

Thomas Ardill
October 2007

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘The Isle of May 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-the-isle-of-may-r1131870, accessed 25 July 2021.