02 juillet 2017

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851), Abbotsford from the north bank of the River Tweed


Lot 107. Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851), Abbotsford from the north bank of the River Tweed, pencil, pen and ink and watercolour, with scratching out, 3 ¾ x 5 ¾ in. (9.5 x 14.5 cm.). Estimate: GBP 70,000 - GBP 100,000 (USD 89,110 - USD 127,300) © Christie's Images Ltd 2017

ProvenanceProbably acquired by Robert Cadell.
John Dillon; Christie's, London, 29 April 1869, lot 134 (195 gns to Agnew's).
John Heugh.
Andrew George Kurtz; Christie’s, London, 9-11 May 1891, lot 198 (150 gns to Agnew's).
Sir Donald Currie and by descent to 
Major F.D. Mirrielees; Christie's, London, 20 March 1959, lot 60 (850 gns to Leggatt). 

Property from a Distinguished Private European Collector

Literature: Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, London, 1902, p. 238.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 1913, vol. II, no. 568, as ‘Abbotsford’.
A. Graves, Art Sales from Early in the Eighteenth Century to Early in the Twentieth Century, 1921, III, p. 226, sale of ‘A Trust Estate’.
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 435, no. 1142.
G. Finley, Landscapes of Memory. Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London, 1980, pp. 220-1, fig. 102.
F. Russell, Portraits of Sir Walter Scott, London, 1987, p. 87, no. 220.
T. Ardill, ‘Edinburgh sketchbook 1834’, published as part of the revised catalogue of the Turner Bequest on the Tate website, March 2011.

Exhibited: Aberdeen, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Turner in Scotland, 1982, no. 67, p. 51.

NoteLast exhibited more than thirty years ago, this brilliantly coloured watercolour vividly captures Turner’s fondness for the scenery of the Scottish borders. He had first explored the region in 1797, which resulted in his famous series of views of Norham Castle at sunrise, culminating in the late oil painting at Tate Britain (see lot 106).  

The scene here is located further up the River Tweed, close to Galashiels, and depicts Abbotsford, the neo-baronial home of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). As has been suggested by Gerald Finley, the celebrated Scottish author can probably be identified as the principal figure in white, in the foreground. Scott had acquired the land on the southern bank of the Tweed (then known as Cartley Hole Farm) around 1811. He was at that date already a commercially successful poet (improbable as the idea seems today), and his earnings from these literary endeavours usefully supplemented his stipend as Sheriff-Deputy of Selkirkshire and his official salary as Clerk of Session. By 1814 he had begun to write his immensely popular sequence of historical novels, publishing them anonymously as ‘The Author of Waverley’ (this being the first book of the sequence). 

Scott’s tireless curiosity about historical detail, combined with the acquisitive character of the true antiquarian served him well in his fiction, but also pervaded his home life. At Abbotsford he assembled fragments of ancient Scottish ruins, which were integrated into the stylistically eclectic house he constructed (with the assistance of the architect William Atkinson) between 1822 and 1824 to replace the old farmhouse, at an estimated cost of £25,000. In his book The Gothic Revival, 1745-1845(1975) James Macaulay asserted that ‘Abbotsford is the unsung prototype of Scots-Baronial architecture which was to sweep across the country’ in the later 19th Century. While the turrets and gables of the exterior are suitably fantastical as the home of a Romantic writer, the interior is equally memorable, especially the carved entrance hall, encrusted with armour and weaponry. This was one of several rooms that Turner recorded when he stayed at Abbotsford during the first half of August 1831 (see the Abbotsford sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCLXVII).


The direct connection between Turner and Scott arose over a decade earlier, when, in 1818, Turner had travelled to Edinburgh to record subjects to illustrate the author’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland (see K. Thomson, Turner and Sir Walter Scott, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 1999). Regrettably, Turner appeared aloof and rather boorish to Scott and the local artists he encountered, which inevitably soured the professional relationship. It was consequently a feat of tremendous diplomatic skill by the publisher Robert Cadell to bring them together again in 1831 to collaborate on a new standard edition of Scott’s writings. Hard economics also played a part, for in the meantime Scott had gone bankrupt, following the financial crash of 1825, which left him solely responsible for the debts of the publishing firm Ballantyne. In making his case for the collaboration, Cadell was hard-nosed in bluntly pointing out that, with Turner’s illustrations, sales of the new edition would be more than double what they might be without them. He sweetened this, however, by encouraging Scott to recognise a kinship, stating that both writer and artist shared an unparalleled ability to infuse even familiar scenes with something remarkable. 

The resulting edition of the Poetical and Prose Works, illustrated with frontispieces and title-pages by Turner between 1833 and 1836 was indeed a success, but Scott’s debts remained considerable at the time of his death in September 1832. To address this, and the public appetite for details of Scott’s life, his son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart embarked on a biography that Cadell intended would be produced in the same format as Scott’s own Works. Lockhart’s progress was frustratingly slow, and the original idea of seeking all the images from Turner was eventually abandoned. Ultimately only three were used, including this view of Abbotsford, engraved by William Miller (see Finley, 1980, pp. 211-228). 

In the meantime, Turner had revisited Abbotsford, as Thomas Ardill has recently demonstrated, on 4 October 1834 (see Ardill’s entries for the Edinburgh sketchbook: TB CCLXVIII ff.47, 47a, 52a; Tate website - D26186, D26187, D26197). The sketches he made on this occasion were generally even more impressionistic and slight than those of three years earlier. But these hasty pencil outlines, combined with the experience in August 1831 of a dawn walk to fish in the adjacent river, provided the basis for this atmospheric realisation of sunrise over the Tweed. Typically this effect has more often been mistaken for a sunset, a tendency common to other works by Turner, which he noted ruefully. In this instance, Turner had initially planned to evoke the landscape illuminated by a full moon, as is clear from the related preparatory study in the Hickman Bacon collection (Finley, 1980, p. 223, fig.104; not in Wilton). Ultimately, the decision to adopt a sunrise probably stems from the fact that he had already submitted a view of Abbotsford with a crescent moon for the Poetical Works (c. 1832, Private collection; W1093). 

It has been assumed that Turner painted the watercolour following a visit from Cadell on 8 May 1838, during which the publisher is supposed to have commissioned it. However, Cadell’s entry in his diary can be understood differently if other factors are taken into account. It reads: ‘to Turner with whom I arranged for a splendid Abbotsford for the Life’ (National Library of Scotland; quoted in Finley, pp. 220-1). The use of the word ‘splendid’ is clearly significant, indicating not something promised for the future, but that Cadell had actually seen an existing design that met his approval, and that he had negotiated successfully with Turner to be able to use or acquire it (presumably at his standard rate, which was 25 guineas per watercolour).  

To support this interpretation, as well as the idea of an earlier dating of the watercolour, it is worth comparing Abbotsford with the two other subjects that resulted from the 1834 visit: Chiefswood Cottage, Abbotsford and Rhymer’s Glen, Abbotsford(both National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; W1118 and W1119; see Christopher Baker, English Drawings and Watercolours 1600-1900. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 2011, pp.353-54). Like the present watercolour, both of these can be related to views in the 1834 Edinburgh sketchbook (TB CCLXVIII). They are defined by a similar golden tone, forcefully contrasted and percolated by deep blue shadows and reflections, and also feature seemingly random patches of white. All of which suggests these three watercolours could have been painted at the same time, towards the end of 1834, once Turner got back from Scotland. Yet, whereas Turner deliberately created a sense of the absent author in both of the vignette designs showing the settings that Scott had fondly inhabited, the landscape subject feels substantially imbued with his presence. This perhaps explains why it stimulated at least one later version of the image; there is an oval-shaped tray, painted in oil, which repeats the scene (Indianapolis Museum of Art; see Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, 1984, p. 306, no. 524). In the past this was accepted as Turner’s own work, chiefly because of its apparent association with Sophia Lockhart, one of Scott’s daughters. However, its status has been questioned by some scholars, and it is no longer attributed to the artist at Indianapolis; it was most likely copied from the original in the later 1830s. Even so, it demonstrates the potency of Turner’s watercolour of Abbotsford and his effectiveness in creating a work that is a deeply felt homage to the writer and simultaneously an exultant evocation of the dawn of another day. 

We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

Christie's. Old Master & British Drawings & Watercolours, 5 July 2017, London, King Street

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