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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

The ‘Scottish Pencils’ 1801

Turner Bequest LVIII 1–42, 44–60, LXXX A
Turner reported to the artist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) that he washed all these sheets of paper with a concoction of ‘India Ink and Tobacco water’ and used ‘liquid white of his own preparing’ for the highlights;1 the backs are also washed with this buff mixture, though they are only occasionally drawn on. A large number of these ‘Scottish Pencil’ subjects, as John Ruskin dubbed them,2 were noted in either the 1801 Scotch Lakes or Tummel Bridge sketchbooks (Tate; Turner Bequest LVI, LVII), and it is remarkable that they are often based on the slightest of outlines. But it is clear from other drawings in the series which do not rely on notes in sketchbooks that he was working in these media while actually on tour in Scotland (see for example D03412 and D03413; Turner Bequest LVIII 33, 34); rain spots on D03427 (Turner Bequest LVIII 48) testify to his having worked in this manner out of doors. It is likely that he went out on excursions from the inns where he stayed, making groups of drawings in different locations nearby.
The subjects may be considered, as far as they can be identified, in a sequence following Turner’s route through the Highlands, which may not correspond with the order in which he executed them; see the concordance in the technical notes below. Some suggestions as to locations have been offered on the evidence of apparent afforestation, indicating the radical improvements made by the 4th Duke of Atholl who in the later eighteenth century planted hundreds of thousands of larches and other softwoods, transforming the appearance of the formerly bleak landscapes of the Tummel, the Tilt, the Garry and the Tay. See D03412 and D03413 (Turner Bequest LVIII 33, 34).
Turner was clearly pleased with the results, and showed the drawings to his colleagues at the Royal Academy, for according to Farington they were ‘much approved’; Farington had enthused about the landscapes of Edinburgh after his visit there in 1788, and Turner reciprocated with his opinion that Scotland was ‘a more picturesque contry [sic] to study in than Wales’.3
Many commentators have been puzzled by this series of drawings, executed in monochrome, usually pencil and white gouache with occasional use of charcoal, on paper washed a darkish grey–buff: they seem to contradict Turner’s awakening sense of the power of light and colour, apparent in other work of the years round the turn of the century. Ruskin, who thought them dull, also described them as ‘scientific in the extreme’.4 In fact, the mountain scenery may well have prompted Turner to experiment with a slatey, rain–pervaded palette rather as his tour of the Rhine in 1817 was to do: that resulted in a set of fifty drawings, all executed in watercolour and gouache on grey–washed paper.5 The present author has suggested that, while recording his experiences in Scotland as precisely as possible, he was also deliberately paying tribute to the monochrome views in Italy that Richard Wilson (1713–1782) had made in black and white chalk on grey paper for the Earl of Dartmouth in the 1750s.6 Compare Turner’s use of coloured grounds in his Wilson sketchbook of 1796–7 (Tate; Turner Bequest XXXVII).
Whether or not they were begun on the spot or completed some time later, for consistency the sheets are all dated here to 1801 without further qualification.
Entry for 6 February 1802, Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre eds., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.V, New Haven and London 1979, p.1742.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.153.
Entry for 6 February 1802, Garlick and Macintyre 1979, p.1742; for comment on this judgement see Wilton 1982, pp.14–15.
E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Library Edition: The Works of John Ruskin: Volume XIII: Turner: The Harbours of England; Catalogues and Notes, London 1904, p.369.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.374–9 no.636–686.
Wilton 1982, p.16; see Brinsley Ford, The Drawings of Richard Wilson, London 1951.
The sheets were recorded by Finberg as originally:
mounted on the pages of a large folio book (23 ¼ x 17 ½), with heavy leather covers, handsomely tooled, inscribed in gold lettering – “Italiaanse Tekeningen.”
On top–right corner of first page is written in ink [not in Turner’s hand] “60” and “68”; also “Lot 8.”
Inside the front cover is written in ink, “61 Leaves,” in what may be Turner’s handwriting. Also, in pencil:
St. Helen’s Church.
... (?)
on the right hand of the road to
London .”
Generally the leaves on which the drawings were mounted have been cut out, but in some cases the drawings, which were only stuck at the four corners, have been taken off. On these pages, in what would have been the margins of the drawings, a number of initials have been placed. Among these are – “S.W.P.” (three times), “W.F.W.”, “Ed.,” “F.,” and “E.D.”
On the narrow slip that remains of one of the pages cut out, Turner has written in pencil:–
Inverary Town }
Inverary Castle } 7 Guineas.
Point of ... (?)9 }
Patterdale Church. 20 G.”10
Finberg noted that John Ruskin made up a parcel of 37 of the sheets, labelling it ‘AB. 290. P.R.’, and endorsing the contents: ‘37 Scottish Pencils. Of very great value. Too large for mounting or exhibiting till there is more room.’11
When the Turner Bequest works were transferred to the British Museum following the 1928 Tate Gallery flood, some of the drawings were mounted in a specially made hardback album (now emptied and preserved at Tate Britain), with a pencil note inside its cover by curator Arthur Magyer Hind:
LVIII Scottish Pencils
Bound 1935, including the following thirty six leaves
1, 2, 9, 12, 13, 15–19, 21–25, 28, 30–33, 37–40, 44, 47– 9, 51–55, 58–60
The rest mounted
Of the ‘Scottish Pencils’ catalogued as such by Finberg,12 Tate D03422 (Turner Bequest LVIII 43) has since been recognized as a Welsh subject of 1798. Conversely, Tate D04894 (Turner Bequest LXXX A), once considered an Alpine view, has been included here. As discussed above, a notional concordance follows, grouping the subjects in the order in which Turner would have encountered the identified locations on the 1801 tour.

<b>TateTurner BequestSubject
1D03435LVIII 56(pines, valley, loch and graveyard)
2D03380LVIII 1Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond
3D03427LVIII 48(mountains with sheep)
4D03425LVIII 46?Loch Lomond
5D03382LVIII 3?Loch Lomond
6D03393LVIII 14?Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond
7D03426LVIII 47?Loch Lomond
8D03430LVIII 51Near Loch Long, with Ben Arthur
9D03381LVIII 2Glen Croe and Ben Arthur
10D03383LVIII 4?Pass of Glen Croe
11D03400LVIII 21?Glen Dochart and Ben More
12D03384LVIII 5?Ben Arthur
13D03386LVIII 7Loch Fyne
14D03387LVIII 8Loch Fyne
15D03388LVIII 9Inveraray Castle and Duniquoich Hill
16D03389LVIII 10Inveraray
17D03390LVIII 11Loch Fyne and Inveraray
18D03391LVIII 12Glen Shira, Loch Fyne and Inveraray
19D03439LVIII 60Ben Cruachan and Loch Awe
20D03392LVIII 13Inishail in Loch Awe, and Ben Cruachan
21D03394LVIII 15Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan
22D03395LVIII 16Kilchurn Castle, River Orchy and Ben Cruachan
23D03396LVIII 17Cruachan Arain, Ben A’an and Ben More
24D03397LVIII 18Ben More and Glen Dochart
25D03398LVIII 19Ben More, Loch Dochart and Castle Dochart
26D03402LVIII 23Ben More and Glen Dochart
27D03406LVIII 27Ben More and Glen Dochart
28D03414LVIII 35?Glen Dochart
29D03421LVIII 42Killin and Meall nan Tarmachan
30D03420LVIII 41Killin and Meall nan Tarmachan
31D03401LVIII 22Loch Tay
32D03399LVIII 20?Glen Lyon
33D03417LVIII 38?Schiehallion
33 versoD41441Tummel Bridge
34D03385LVIII 6?Valley of the Tummel
34 versoD40261(a hillside)
35D03418LVIII 39Tummel Bridge
36D03419LVIII 40Tummel Bridge
37D03411LVIII 32?Loch Tummel
38D03404LVIII 25Pass of Killicrankie
39D03438LVIII 59?Blair Atholl
40D03412LVIII 33Glen Bruar
41D03413LVIII 34Glen Bruar
42 D03405LVIII 26Ben y Vrackie
43 D03415LVIII 36?Killiecrankie
44D03416LVIII 37Ben y Vrackie
45 D03407LVIII 28village ?near Pitlochry
46 D03403LVIII 24(road, river valley and mountains)
47D03436LVIII 57?River Tay near Dunkeld
48D03408LVIII 29mountains near Dunkeld
49D03424LVIII 45?Dunkeld House and River Tay
50D03434LVIII 55?Glen Almond near Newton Bridge
51D03409LVIII 30Vale of Earn
52D03423LVIII 44Vale of Earn
53D03410LVIII 31?Vale of Earn
54D03433LVIII 54(mountains)
55D03432LVIII 53(mountains and lake)
56D03428LVIII 49(silver birch stems, rocks and foliage)
56 versoD41442(?rocks and foliage)
57D03429LVIII 50(rocks and foliage)
58D03431LVIII 52(rocks under a river bank)
59D03437LVIII 58(rocky cliff)
[60]D04894LXXX ABen Lomond from Luss
Footnoted ibid., p.153, as ‘Perhaps Forkin.’
Transcribed from ibid., p.153.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, pp.152–9, LVIII 1–60.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Revised by Matthew Imms
April 2015

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How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘The ‘Scottish Pencils’ 1801’, subset, May 2013, revised by Matthew Imms, April 2015, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/the-scottish-pencils-r1179770, accessed 24 September 2021.