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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill 1834

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 81 Recto:
View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill 1834
Turner Bequest CCLXIX 81
Pencil on off-white wove paper, 113 x 190 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘57 George Square’ left running vertically
Inscribed in blue ink by John Ruskin ‘81’ bottom left inverted and ‘340’ top left inverted
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIX 81’ top left inverted
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Made from the top of Calton Hill, this sketch looks west across the city of Edinburgh to Edinburgh Castle, which is depicted as an outline of battlements, roofs and other structures atop Castle Rock. Landmarks in the foreground include the wide dome of the General Register House on Princes Street, shaded with hatched lines at the centre of the sketch, St John’s church directly above it, the dome of St George’s to the right of that, and the column and statue of the Melville Monument at the far right of the page. At the left of the page is part of a large structure on Calton Hill in the foreground, this may be the corner of the City Observatory. The sketch continues at the right on folio 80 verso (D26413) looking over the northern part of the city to the Firth of Forth. The sketch is one of a series of views of Edinburgh from Calton Hill; see folio 79 verso (D26411) for further references.
Along the left-hand edge of the page Turner inscribed an address that Finberg has read as ‘57 George Square’,1 though it is possible that a different number is intended. Edinburgh’s George Square, which is not far to the south of Calton Hill, was in 1834 almost wholly residential and has, during its history, been home to a number of notable figures. Number 57, the former home of Lord Melville and then his nephew Robert Dundas, 1st Baron Dundas, was from 1825–39 occupied by Johnston and Graham, silk mercers.2 Unless Turner was simply after a new silk handkerchief it is possible that there were rooms available to let at the address and that he was staying there or visiting another resident.
It is perhaps surprising to see a reference to George Square and no mention or sketch of number 25, the childhood home of Sir Walter Scott. Turner was in 1834 working on a commission from the late poet’s publisher to sketch sites for potential illustrations to works by and about Scott, including John Gilbert Lockhart’s Memoirs of the Life of Scott. During this tour he sketched Scott’s former homes at Castle Street (folio 40 verso; D26336), Prestonpans (Tate D26256; Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 86), and Abbotsford (Tate D26186; Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 47).

Thomas Ardill
March 2011

Finberg 1909, II, p.867.
Margaret Tait and William Forbes Gray, ‘George Square: Annals of an Edinburgh Locality, 1766–1926 from Authentic Records’, Volume 26 of the Old Edinburgh Club, Edinburgh 1948. I am indebted to Peter Freshwater, former librarian of Edinburgh University Library, for this information.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2011, 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-view-of-edinburgh-from-calton-hill-r1136344, accessed 23 January 2022.