Smailholm Tower, Roxburghshire [Smailholme, Smallholm], c.1832

Watercolour vignette on paper, image 5 1/4 x 4 ins, in border 7 x 4 5/8 ins on sheet 8 3/4 x 7 1/2 ins, 223 x 191 mm

Inscribed by Turner in watercolour, above subject; ‘Border Minstrelsey/ Vol, ‘ and below; ‘Smailholme Tower’

Private Collection

Turner catalogues: Wilton 1071; tdb1192

Scanned by DH from Christie’s 1993 catalogue

This is a small highly-wrought watercolour vignette with a three-storey medieval tower house set on a rock eminence, with a glimpse of water to the right and buildings beyond. A shepherd is shooing three cows in the foreground, and the moon rises over the water in the distance. The subject is set within an ornate border, with a figure to each side and the lettering ‘Border Minstrelsy/ Vol. ‘ above and ‘Smailholme Tower’ below.

This is the first of three watercolours of Smailholm Tower that Turner made in connection with the work of Sir Walter Scott. It was engraved by E Goodall, 1833, for Scott’s Poetical Works, 1834 (R.494). A second composition of the subject (Vassar College, USA; W.1140) was engraved by W Miller, 1838, for Lockhart’s Life of Scott (R.566) and a third (London Courtauld Institute Galleries; not catalogued by Wilton but mentioned under his no1140) was presented by Turner to Sir Walter in 1832.

Photograph by Professor David Hill

The subject is the fifteenth century Smailholm Peel Tower seen from the west, with Sandyknowe Farm across the pond to the right.
Paul Jess has an excellent comparative photograph on Google Earth;

Paul Jess on Google Earth

In Turner’s depiction, however, we see the sun setting and moon rising. Smailholm Tower stands about two miles above the river Tweed in the Scottish Borders, about five miles west of Kelso and the same distance east of Melrose. Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford is a further two miles west of Melrose.

In 1831 Turner was commissioned by the Edinburgh publisher Robert Cadell to make illustrations to be engraved in a new edition of the works of Sir Walter Scott. He set out that summer to make a tour of North Britain to seek out subjects. He stayed with Sir Walter at Abbotsford and visited Smailholm on 6 August, 1831 in the company of Scott and Cadell. Smailholm was of especial importance to Scott for he had spent much of his childhood at Sandyknowe Farm at its foot. The sketch on which this watercolour is based is in the Abbotsford sketchbook (T.B. CCLXVII-84v; Tate D26077). Finley 1980 gives a vividly detailed and still-definitive account of Turner’s 1831 tour and discusses the significance and context of each of Tuner’s subjects.

It is curious that the engraver mistranscribed Turner’s inscription as ‘Smallholm Tower’. This would no doubt have been thought embarrassing, especially as it occurs on the title-page to the very first volume of the series, but it seems that neither artist, publisher, nor editor, spotted it. It is perhaps even more surprising that no-one involved in the publishing seems ever to have noticed. Even when the plate was relettered in 1841 to change the publication line to A & C Black of Edinburgh, the error avoided detection. It did not, however, escape the attention of W.G.Rawlinson in his catalogue of the engravings (vol.2, 1912, no.494).

Peter van der Merwe 2020 publishes a copy of the watercolour by William Grieve and considers the occasion on which it might have been made. The article finds that the watercolour is presently untraced, and reproduces an old black and white photograph of uncertain vintage but seems unaware of Christie’s sales of 1983 and 1993 where it is reproduced in colour.


Robert Cadell;
T E Plint, to
Christie’s 7 March 1862 (171), bt.for 62 gns [Thornbury says 65 gns] by
Smith ;
H A J Munro of Novar, to
Christie’s 2 June 1877 (1), bought for 205 gns by
Wallis ;
John Feetham, to
Christie’s 27 May 1895 (114), bought for 101 gns by
H Quilter;
C Wheeley Lea and by descent to
Mrs Wheeley Lea, to
Christie’s 11 May 1917 (37), bought for 210 gns by
W F Morris Martin;
Rt. Hon. C P Allen and by descent to his grandson (1980) to
Christie’s, 14 June 1983, lot 90 as ‘Smailholm Tower, Roxburghshire’, repr incolour (without border) and sold for £13,000 to
A Japanese collector to
Christie’s, London – Tuesday 13 July 1993, lot 34 repr colour (with border), est £30-40,000 and sold for £30,000 (TSN) to a
Private Collector

References and Exhibitions:

Exh: M.B.G., 1832, 1833, no.72
Engraved by E Goodall, dated 1833, as ‘Smallholm Tower’ [sic] for The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott’, as title page to volume 1, ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’; Thornbury 1877 p.609 as ‘Smailholme Tower. (Engraved.) 65 guineas. Smith’;
Armstrong 1902, p278 as “Smailholm Tower”. Circa 1831. [Ex Quilter, Feetham, and Novar Collections. Chr. 1877, Munro, 1895, Feetham.] Vignette. The Border tower on a steep rock. Moon rising to left. Three cows in F. Engraved by E Goodall, 1833, for Scott’s “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border;
Rawlinson, 1913, volume 2, no.494;
Finley 1972, pp.368-9, 372;
Exh London, Norwich and Wolverhampton, 1975, Turner and the Poets, no.72;
Wilton 1979, No.1071 as ‘Smailholm Tower, c.1832’, size unknown, not repr, untraced;
Finley 1980, pp. 107-114, repr b/w p.112 as ‘Smailholm Tower, Watercolour, 1832, engraved for Sir Walter Scotts, Poetical Works (1833-4), 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in; 16.0 x 11.4 cm. Private Collection);
Turner Studies 1983, 3(1)60, reporting 1983 sale;
TSN 65 – December 1993, pg. 10 reporting 1993 sale as ‘Smailholm Tower, Roxburghshire, c.1831-2 (W.1071)’, repr b/w;
Peter van der Merwe, ‘A Smailholm Tower Puzzle’, pp.18-19, repr b/w, as untraced, but reproducing in colour a copy by Wiiliam Grieve.


Last updated 30 June 2020

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