Berwick upon Tweed, c.1832

Watercolour vignette on paper, 87 x 152 mm

Private Collection

Turner Catalogues: Wilton 1092; tdb1212

Image courtesy of Christie’s

This is a small, highly-finished watercolour showing an extensive landscape with a castle on a sunlit eminence centre left, overlooking a broad river and many-arched bridge to the right. A town with a tower and spire lies beyond the castle with the sea in the far distance.

The subject is Berwick upon Tweed as seen from the northern bank of the river Tweed, looking east to the castle and town and Old Bridge. At the extreme left of the composition is the Bell Tower, part of the town’s fortifications, and the spire over the castle is that of the town hall.

Turner’s viewpoint is accessible today, on open land above the Tweed to the west of the castle, but the scene was very much changed not many years after Turner’s view, by the construction in 1847-50 of the splendid twenty-eight arches of the Royal Border Bridge which was built by Robert Stephenson to carry the York Newcastle and Berwick railway across the river, into the station built in the castle precincts.

The view of the Old Bridge was further complication by the construction in 1925-28, between the railway and Old Bridge, of the Royal Tweed Road Bridge. Its four giant concrete spans seem to have been designed to demonstrate the evolution of civil engineering.

Photograph by David Hill

The watercolour was commissioned by Scott’s publisher, Robert Cadell of Edinburgh, and engraved by William Miller, 1833 as ‘Berwick upon Tweed’, the frontispiece for Volume 12, ‘Dramas’, of Scott’s Poetical Works, 1832-34. It was the final volume of the set. For a general introduction to the series see here.

Turner travelled north in the summer of 1831 to gather sketches for the commission, and stayed with Sir Walter at Abbotsford for a few days 5-9 August. During that visit he was accompanied by Robert Cadell, who recorded the artist’s activity in some detail, both social and artistic.  Turner travelled with Cadell from Abbotsford to Berwick, where they parted.

The best accounts of the visit, and indeed Turner’s more general association with Scott are those by Gerald Finley of 1972 and 1980. These cover Turner’s tour to gather material for Scott’s Poetry in 1831, and offer fascinating documentary evidence from the diaries of Robert Cadell at the National Library of Scotland.

Finley relates the account in Cadell’s Diaries to individual sketches in Turner’s sketchbooks, and describes Turner making the sketch on which this was based (Abbotsford sketchbook, T.B. CCLXVII 48v-49). The account gives is a vivid glimpse into the energy that Turner relentlessly invested into his sketching.

Image feed: Tate
Image feed: Tate
Photograph by David Hill

The two arrived at on 10 August at seven o clock in the evening and put up at the King’s Arms Inn.  After dinner the two walked up through the town, and Turner found his view ‘out of the Scotsgate in a field on the left hand side of the Dunse Road’. They returned there the following morning so that Turner could finish his sketches before Cadell left on the Edinburgh coach at ten.

The sketches are fully explored and illustrated by Thomas Ardill (2011) in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest.

The subject was designed to illustrate Scott’s dramatic poem ‘Halidon Hill’, which appears as the first item in the volume. The poem turns on a battle of 1333 between the Scots and English on high ground a couple of miles north-west of Berwick. It must already have been decided that Berwick itself and its fortifications, fronting the river Tweed and its crossing, told a more dramatic visual story of the contested nature of the area.

The relation between Scott’s subject and Turner’s illuminates a strength of this project. It is a genuine dialogue between artists. Turner’s contribution is all the more effective for being allowed the space to operate on its own terms.


Robert Cadell (1833) by whom sold late 1830s to
Benjamin Godfrey Windus of Tottenham (1840);
Sir W Tite to
Christie’s [4 April?] 1874;
anon. to
Christie’s 5 June 1875 (32), bt.
‘Lasalles’ [i.e.
John Lessels;
J R Findlay (1902);
Lady Lucas Tooth, to
Sotheby’s 15 August 1960 (75), bt.
Fine Art Society, London;
Vose Galleries, Boston, from whom bt. 1967 by
Private Collector (1979) i.e.
William P Wood, Philadelphia, USA, to Christie’s, London – 14 June 1983 No. 62 repr colour, £45,630 to
Private Collector;

Notes to provenance:

This is listed as a Windus watercolour on the Turner in Tottenham website. Windus owned 67 Scott subjects by 1840, which he appears to have bought direct from Cadell in the later 1830s (see Whittingham in Turner Studies 7 (2) 29-35. None is referred to specifically, but sixty-seven items indicated a complete collection [Wilton lists 67 subjects published by Cadell W.1070-1133, plus 1140-2]. Windus appears to have let them go at intervals. Thirty-seven are recorded in the collection of H.A.J.Munro of Novar in 1865, eighteen of which appeared in the sale of the collection in 1877, where they are individually identified.

Wilton 1979 does not give the reference to Sir W Tite as does Armstrong, but this reference might suggest that this watercolour was not one of the thirty-seven owned by Munro [although it does not render it impossible]

Armstrong does not give the 1875 sale reference as does Wilton.

Christie’s 1983 corrects the ‘Lascelles’ reference to John Lessels and also confirms William Wood as the buyer from Vose Galleries in 1967.

Published references and exhibitions:

Engraved by W.Miller, 1833, as the frontispiece for volume 12 ‘Dramas” for Scott’s Poetical Works, 1834;
Exh: Moon, Boys and Graves Gallery, Pall Mall, London, 1833, no.68 as ‘Berwick upon Tweed’;
Exh Edinburgh, Museum of Science and Art, Loan exhibition, 1878, no.178;
Armstrong 1902 p.242 as ‘Berwick-on-Tweed Circa 1831. [Trustees of J R Findlay Esq. Chr 1874, Sir W Tite, Moon’s Gallery 1833 (R Cadell)] 3 3/8 x 5 3/4. Looking out to sea. In mid-distance. Left, the walls of castle, creeping down to river on right. Engraved by W Miller, 1833, Scott’s Dramatic Poems’;
Rawlinson, volume 2, 1913 no.515;
Wilton 1979, No.1092 as ‘Berwick upon Tweed, c.1832’, repro b/w;
Finley, 1980, p.129 ff. and repr pl.56 b/w as ‘Berwick on Tweed, 1832, William P Wood Esq’;
Turner Studies 1983, 3(1)60, reporting 1983 sale, not repr.;
Whittingham in Turner Studies 1987, 7 (2) 29-35;
Thomas Ardill, ‘Berwick-on-Tweed 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012,, accessed 06 October 2020.
Turner in Tottenham website {accessed 9 September 2020]
James McAllister, Turner and Scott: The myth and memories of the painter and the poet, in Museums Crush, 2 July 2019, where engraving reproduced in colour {accessed 30 September 2020]

DH 06 October 2020

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