Sublime Sites

Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill

Turner and Scotland #1: Ben Arthur from near Ardgartan

Mist on Ben Arthur Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 14.54 GMT

Mist on Ben Arthur
Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 14.54 GMT

Not all my Turnering goes according to plan. This is an interim report on a new identification for a watercolour at the British Museum. Currently called ‘Mountain study, a view in north Wales (?)’ this can now be confirmed instead as a view of Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan. On a recent trip up to the far north-west,  I took a small detour off the Loch Lomond route to photograph Turner’s view. Being in the mountain valleys on this occasion, however, was rather like being in a large bucket with a wet carpet for a lid. Not the best conditions for photography, perhaps, but apt; for looking at Turner’s sketches conditions were not dissimilar when he was there in 1801. He persevered enough to at least see something of the mountain, and of necessity, for it was the best part of a week’s journey to get there directly. For me it is about four hours.

J M W Turner Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801 Watercolour, 247 x 418 mm British Museum, London, R.W.Lloyd Bequest, 1958-7-12-405 as ‘Mountain Study: a view in North Wales?’ Image courtesy of The British Museum. To see the image in the British Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=748939&partId=1&searchText=turner+welsh+mountain&page=1

J M W Turner
Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801
Watercolour, 247 x 418 mm
British Museum, London, R.W.Lloyd Bequest, 1958-7-12-405 as ‘Mountain Study: a view in North Wales?’
Image courtesy of The British Museum. To see the image in the British Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=748939&partId=1&searchText=turner+welsh+mountain&page=1

Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 15.15 GMT The lower shoulder of the mountain is all that can be seen. Conditions were wet when Turner visited the site in 1801, He may have had to persevere for some time in order to get a glimpse of the summit. I will just have to go back in more promising conditions.

Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan
Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 15.15 GMT
The lower shoulder of the mountain is all that can be seen. Conditions were wet when Turner visited the site in 1801, He may have had to persevere for some time in order to get a glimpse of the summit. I will just have to go back in more promising conditions.

Google Earth Street View image of Ben Arthur from above Ardgartan Google Earth’s photograph is a very wide angle of view that visually diminishes the mountain. In fact the rocky summit seems very much more imposing, and the bulk of the mountain very much greater.

Google Earth Street View image of Ben Arthur from above Ardgartan
Google Earth’s photograph is a very wide angle of view that visually diminishes the mountain. In fact the rocky summit seems very much more imposing, and the bulk of the mountain very much greater.

J M W Turner Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801 Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03292-93, Turner Bequest TB LVII 8a-9 as ‘Looking up Glenkinglas from Cairndow’. Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708/19

J M W Turner
Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801
Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03292-93, Turner Bequest TB LVII 8a-9 as ‘Looking up Glenkinglas from Cairndow’.
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708/19

The British Museum watercolour has long been thought to record a scene in North Wales and before that the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District. Kim Sloan gives a resume of the various suggestions in her catalogue of J.M.W.Turner Watercolours from the R.W.Lloyd Bequest published by the British Museum in 1998 (no.8). I noticed at the time when thinking about reviewing the book that the watercolour was based on a sketch of 1801 in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook in the Turner Bequest at the Tate (TB LVII 8a-9). This certainly made it a Scottish subject, and the mountain profile reminded me of the distinctive shape of Ben Arthur, but it was only when thinking about the subject again in 2013 and being able now to draw upon the amazing facility of Google Earth Street View, that I was able to pin down the exact viewpoint. This is a just a few hundred yards above Ardgartan, not far after the Inverary road turns away from Loch Long into Glen Croe, where a little side road on the left drops down to an old bridge across the Croe Water. The bridge can be clearly seen in both sketch and watercolour, and its successor survives, but there are far more trees in the valley than in Turner’s day, and it cannot be included in any clear view of the valley today. In my photograph it is hidden behind the public conveniences to the left.

Click on maps below to view full-size

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan. Showing Turner’s viewpoint and principal landmarks

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan.
Showing Turner’s viewpoint and principal landmarks

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan. Detail of Turner’s viewpoint and nearby parking.

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan.
Detail of Turner’s viewpoint and nearby parking.

There is scope here only for some immediate contextualisation, though Turner’s tour of 1801 in its own right would undoubtedly merit a full-length book.

The sketch comes near the beginning of the itinerary recorded in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook. The existing identifications of individual sketches would yield to sustained re-examination I suspect, but the sequence of drawings begins at the southern end of Loch Lomond, follows the west shore as far as Tarbet, then crosses to Arrochar, round the head of Loch Long, and along the old military road from Ardgartan past Ben Arthur through Clen Croe and Glen Kinglas to Loch Fyne and Inverary, proceeding onwards north to Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe, Tyndrum, Loch Tay and Tummel Bridge before turning back south at Blair Atholl.

In the Autumn 2013 issue of Turner Society News (Vol.120, pp.4-7) Murdo Macdonald and Eric Shanes published an article in which they re-identified another supposedly Welsh subject as Scottish. The picture in this case was an oil painting at the Fitzwilliam Museum called ‘Welsh Mountain Landscape’ which they demonstrated is in fact a view of the promontory of Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond across the loch to the right. The identification stemmed from a re-identification of a related pencil drawing of the same subject. Their article has further significance in that they identify the oil as that exhibited by Turner at the Royal Academy in 1802 under the title of ‘Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros’.

The Loch Lomond subject, however has direct relevance to our immediate topic, for we may add to Macdonald and Shanes’s material the observation that the pencil drawing that they reproduce (one of a series of generally quite highly finished studio pencil drawings called the ‘Scottish Pencils’) has, like our Ardgartan subject, its antecedent in a pencil sketch in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook. A drawing just a few pages before that of Ardgartan records Turner’s first-hand observation of the view of Rubha More and Ben Lomond, which he then developed into the ‘Scottish Pencils’ drawing. So we may be sure that Turner began the Tummel Bridge sketchbook at the southern end of Loch Lomond, and then proceeded on the west shore road via Luss and Rubha Mor before reaching Tarbet and then crossing to Loch Long and Arrochar.

J.M.W.Turner  Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros. Exhibited Royal Academy, 1802 Oil on canvas 641 x 988 mm The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. To see the image in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?oid=3996

J.M.W.Turner
Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros. Exhibited Royal Academy, 1802
Oil on canvas 641 x 988 mm
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. To see the image in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?oid=3996

J M W Turner Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801 Chalk, Pencil and watercolour on paper, 297 x 429 mm. Tate, London, D03426., Turner Bequest TB LVIII 47 as ‘A Wooded Bay with Mountains Beyond, Perhaps Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’ Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-a-wooded-bay-with-mountains-beyond-perhaps-loch-lomond-at-inveruglas-d03426

J M W Turner
Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801
Chalk, Pencil and watercolour on paper, 297 x 429 mm.
Tate, London, D03426., Turner Bequest TB LVIII 47 as ‘A Wooded Bay with Mountains Beyond, Perhaps Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-a-wooded-bay-with-mountains-beyond-perhaps-loch-lomond-at-inveruglas-d03426

J M W Turner Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801 Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03284-85, Turner Bequest TB LVII 4a-5 as ‘A Small Boat Drawn Up in a Wooded Bay, with Mountains Beyond: ?Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’. Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708

J M W Turner
Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801
Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03284-85, Turner Bequest TB LVII 4a-5 as ‘A Small Boat Drawn Up in a Wooded Bay, with Mountains Beyond: ?Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’.
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708

So the two subjects are recorded in closely sequential sketches in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook, and are only a few miles apart and must have been sketched on the same or successive days. We can pinpoint Turner’s visit to Loch Lomond and Ardgartan quite precisely, for a note in another sketchbook used on the 1801 tour (Scotch Lakes sketchbook, TB LVI, inside end cover) records that he left Edinburgh on 18 July for a tour of the Highlands, and arrived at Gretna on his way south on 5 August. His route took him from Edinburgh directly via Linlithgow, Glasgow and Dumbarton to Loch Lomond. If we allow three or four days for that part of the journey he would have been at Loch Lomond and Ardgartan about the 21st or 22nd of July.

The 1980s were something of a golden age for topographical work on Turner. In 1982 Aberdeen Art Gallery organised an exhibition of Turner in Scotland. Today it might be possible to make two or three wonderful books out of the topic, but the catalogue published at the time contains some great work. One chapter that I am particularly fond of is by Tom Wigley and Nigel Huckstep of the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, in which they give ‘An account of weather conditions during Turner’s tour of Scotland in July-August 1801’. They paint a remarkably detailed day-to day picture. Conditions were generally cold and cloudy: ‘On 19-22 July a new low moved into the area, bringing a little relief from the cool weather [northerlies] and some reduction in cloud. Cloudy cool conditions returned as this low moved across to southern Scandinavia’. Afterwards there were a few brighter intervals, but generally the cool and cloudy conditions prevailed.

And that is exactly what we see in the sketches that Turner made at the time, and in the pictures that he developed from those observations.

CLICK ON ANY IMAGE BELOW TO OPEN FULL SIZE AND SEE CAPTIONS

The interested reader can follow Turner’s sequence of sketches in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook on the Tate’s own website by clicking on the following link:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708.
It seems clear from my own brief engagement with the material here, that there is a huge reservoir of potential interest in the sketches at this close level of focus. It is a little surprising that the Tate’s revision of its catalogue of Turner’s sketches has not yet given the tour of 1801 any sustained consideration. It seems plain from the initial grounds for this essay, i.e.that the British Museum watercolour has been misidentified as a North Wales subject, that Turner’s tour of Scotland in that year has been overshadowed by his earlier work in Wales, and (mea culpa) by his first visit to the Alps in the following year. I hope to return to the topic sometime soon once I can find the time to visit Loch Lomond. It’s perhaps a faint hope that the opportunity will materialise for me to give the tour the full treatment that it deserves, but perhaps someone will be able to do it full justice one day.

A Mountain Ridge with Trees in the Foreground 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

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