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Turner and Scott: The myth and memories of the painter and the poet 1

W. Miller after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Edinburgh from Blackford Hill’, engraved frontispiece for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Marmion’ Poetical Works Vol. VII, 1833 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

Turner’s House stages its first exhibition with a display of etchings revealing the relationship of JMW Turner and fellow romantic Sir Walter Scott

The story of the business relationship between artist JMW Turner and writer Sir Walter Scott contains enough twists that you’d almost be forgiven for dismissing it as a work of fiction.

Painter and poet first collaborated together on Scott’s Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland in 1818, while Turner was still living at his Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, and culminated in the publication of Turner’s illustrated editions of Scott’s poetry and prose after the author’s death in 1832.

During the intervening years, the pair’s partnership fluctuated between fruitful instances and fractured intervals. Though they admired each other greatly, their relationship was marred by moments of suspicion and miscommunication; accusations of ‘slurring’ and palms ‘itchy’ for money.

engraving showing horse-drawn cart and group of people sat in foreground, a plain and river in the mid-ground and large hills in the distance

W. Miller after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Melrose’, engraved frontispiece for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ Poetical Works Vol. VI, 1833 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

When Turner arrived at the door of Scott’s family home in Abbotsford in 1831, however, he was greeted with a warm welcome. Hired by Edinburgh publisher Robert Cadell, who had been impressed by the success of the artist’s recent illustrations to Samuel Rogers’s Italy, A Poem, Turner was asked to create a series of twenty-four watercolour designs (paired over twelve volumes) to illustrate a new edition of the author’s Poetical Works.

Turner agreed to the commission, charging Scott a modest 25 guineas for each design. While staying at Abbotsford, he was tasked not only with understanding the man behind the writing, but also sketching the Highland landscape that the author had help put on the map.

W. Miller after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Berwick-upon-Tweed’, engraved frontispiece for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Dramas’ Poetical Works Vol. XII, 1834 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

J. Horsburgh after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Mayburgh’, engraved vignette for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Bridal of Triermain’ Poetical Works Vol. XI, 1833 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

H. Le Keux after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Loch Coriskin’ (Coruisk), engraved frontispiece for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Lord of the Isles’ Poetical Works Vol. X, 1834 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

Turner and Scott were disparate characters, from very different social backgrounds. The former, a recluse and eccentric, was born to a lower middle-class family, retained a cockney accent throughout his life, and persistently sought to evade the trappings of success and fame. The latter, meanwhile, was the son of a solicitor and a prominent member of the Scottish Tory establishment in Edinburgh.

As artists though, they were equals; two of the most influential and successful figures of their day, with Scott’s poetry and prose breaking publishing sales records and Turner renowned for his romantic landscapes.

A new exhibition, the first to be held at Turner’s House – the site of his Twickenham home – celebrates the creative collaboration between these two cultural greats of Georgian Britain. Combining Turner’s exquisite designs and Scott’s powerfully evocative text, Miniature Lands of Myth and Memory takes visitors on a time-travelling expedition through the north of England, the contested Border country between England and Scotland and the wild Western Highlands.

E. Goodall after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Fingal’s Cave, Staffa’, engraved vignette for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Lord of the Isles’ Poetical Works Vol. X, 1834 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

Le Keux after J.M.W. Turner, ‘Abbotsford’, engraved vignette for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Dramas’ Poetical Works Vol. XII, 1834 © Kilianosullivan.com for Turner’s House Trust

Guests journey through the pair’s last collaboration before Scott’s death, following a trail of landscapes, antiquities, folk tales and ballads that inspired the author’s poetry, before turning to the warmer climes of France and Italy, the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe, and the designs of Turner’s next commission, Life of Napoleon Buonaparte.

Of the pair, historian and author Dr Jacqueline Riding, Trustee of Turner’s House and curator of the exhibition says: “Turner and Scott were uniquely suited. Both viewed topography as landscapes of myth and memory, the silent witnesses of past ages and more recent history. Turner’s exquisite designs, translated into elegant engraved miniatures, are a fitting celebration of the source of Scott’s inspiration and his extraordinary creativity.”

Miniature Lands of Myth & Memory, J.M.W. Turner’s designs for Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works & Life of Napoleon Buonaparte is at Turner’s House until Sunday July 28 2019.

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Turner's House, Twickenham

Twickenham, London

In 1813 England's great landscape painter J.M.W Turner built a small villa, Sandycombe Lodge, on a large plot near the Thames at Twickenham. Here, the painter became an architect. With the help of Heritage Lottery funding, Sandycombe Lodge has been carefully restored to allow visitors to experience Turner's House as…

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