Photo on top: J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), Harbour View, about 1826. Bodycolour on blue paper, 13.9 x 18.9 cm. Collection: Scottish National Gallery, Henry Vaughan Bequest 1900.
EDINBURGH.- 2018 will begin at the National Galleries of Scotland, as it does every year, with a wonderful tradition: the opening of Turner in January, an exhibition of the outstanding collection of Turner watercolours bequeathed in 1900 by Henry Vaughan (1809-1899) and supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery for the sixth year.
The son of a London Quaker hat manufacturer, Vaughan inherited a fortune in 1828 and devoted his life to travel, philanthropy and amassing a rich and varied collection of fine and decorative art. His interests ranged from sculpture, Spanish clocks, ivories and bronzes to medieval stained glass, Old Master drawings and Rembrandt etchings, but he is best known as a collector of nineteenth-century British art, particularly Turner and Constable. Vaughan owned Constable’s The Hay-Wain for twenty years, which he presented to the National Gallery in London in 1886, and fifteen oil sketches by Constable, three superb examples of which are currently on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland from Tate through the exhibition Constable & McArtistgart: A Meeting of Two Masterpieces (until 25 March 2018).
Above all, however, Vaughan had a passion for the work of Turner and for every aspect of Turner’s watercolour output, from his early topographical drawings and designs for engraving to his private sketches and brilliantly free, late watercolours. Vaughan’s collection of more than 100 watercolours amounted to a comprehensive overview of Turner’s graphic work and it was described in one of his obituaries as ‘singularly choice and indeed hardly paralleled in this country’. The 38 watercolours bequeathed to the National Galleries of Scotland by Vaughan likewise encapsulate the artist’s entire career, ranging from the subtle and meticulous ‘Monro School’ watercolours of the 1790s, such as Rye, Sussex and Lake Albano, to the spectacular Venetian views of 1840, such as The Piazzetta, Venice and Venice from the Laguna, which capture the drama and explosive skies of late summer Adriatic storms.
As well as having a connoisseur’s eye for quality, Vaughan was also concerned about how his bequest should be displayed. He stipulated that these delicate works should be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time free of charge during the month of January in every year… and no longer time in every year’, to limit their exposure to strong daylight and protect the pigments from fading. His foresight means that the watercolours are notable for their fine condition. The Vaughan Turner display has run throughout the month of January since 1900 and brings a welcome injection of light and colour at the darkest time of the year in Scotland.
This year six of Turner’s watercolour illustrations to the Collected Poems of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell, also from the NGS collection, will be included in the exhibition. These will complement his designs for illustrations to the work of Sir Walter Scott, which form part of the Vaughan Bequest. Turner visited Scott at his home at Abbotsford in August 1831 and made sketches of the house and grounds, on which he based his finished watercolours. Rhymer’s Glen, Abbotsford represents Scott’s favourite spot on the estate for composition and contemplation, while Chiefswood Cottage, Abbotsford depicts the summer home of Scott’s daughter, Charlotte Sophia and her husband, John Gibson Lockhart. Both vignettes were engraved as illustrations to different volumes of Scott’s Miscellaneous Prose Works. Other illustrations to Scott’s work include the spectacular Loch Coruisk, Skye (1831-4), produced to illustrate the poem The Lord of the Isles, in which swirling clouds bear down on the peaks of the Cuillin mountain range and human figures appear like ants against the might of nature.
Photo on the right: J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), Sea View, mid-1820s. Watercolour and gouache on blue paper, 13.5 x 19 cm. Collection: Scottish National Gallery, Henry Vaughan Bequest 1900. Photo: © National Galleries of Scotland | Antonia Reeve.
During the 1830s Turner received an increasing number of commissions to design vignette illustrations for books. The introduction of engraving on steel in the 1820s made possible the production of engraved book illustrations of enormous detail and refinement. Turner was an acknowledged master of the art, able to capture vast and dramatic landscapes on a miniature scale. His commissions included illustrations for volumes of John Milton, John Bunyan and the contemporary writers Samuel Rogers, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Campbell. Although Turner’s vignettes are now a lesser known aspect of his artistic activity, in his own lifetime they contributed greatly to the spread of his fame. He worked on best-selling publications, such as Samuel Rogers’s Italy in 1830, of which it was said that there was scarcely an educated household that did not possess a copy. To have Turner’s name attached to a publication could add greatly to the likely commercial success of the venture, as Scott’s publisher Robert Cadell attested when he pushed for Turner to be appointed as the illustrator for the new edition of Scott’s Poetical Works in 1831, claiming that ‘with his pencil, I shall insure the subscription of 8,000, without, not 3,000’.
Turner’s illustrations to The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, executed in 1835-6, cover a broad range of subject matter, from military skirmishes to complex prophesies and scenes of Scottish romance and history. Campbell (1777-1844) was the son of a Glasgow tobacco merchant. He achieved rapid success aged twenty two with his first book The Pleasures of Hope (1799) and travelled widely in Europe, before becoming a lecturer, editor and rector of Glasgow University, as well as a highly regarded poet. The vignette illustrations on display will include Lochiel’s Warning, in which a wizard confronts the Jacobite leader Donald Cameron of Lochiel, attempting to warn him of the horrors of Culloden and its aftermath. Also on show will be one of the most outstanding vignettes in the series, Kosciuszko: The Pleasures of Hope, which depicts with remarkable power the 1794 uprising in Warsaw against Russian rule led by the Polish solider and statesman Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1814).
Christopher Baker, Acting Director of the Scottish National Gallery said: “We welcome in the new year with this spectacular display of Turner’s glowing watercolours, which demonstrate the extraordinary range of his artistic skills throughout his life, as well as the refined taste and great generosity of a distinguished collector – Henry Vaughan. It’s the perfect antidote to the darkness of an Edinburgh January.”
Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “We are absolutely delighted to welcome in the New Year along with the National Galleries of Scotland with Turner in January at the Scottish National Gallery. This is the sixth year that players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported the tradition of showing Turner each January and it really is wonderful to see players’ support helping to provide thousands of visitors with the opportunity to play a part in this wonderful legacy”.