Media Release: Islay exhibition of Turner’s 1831 Hebridean journey

AN exhibition of images from the sketch book of the renowned artist, JWM Turner, will open at Finlaggan Information Centre, Isle of Islay on Sunday, 17 July.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see the pencil drawings recording Turner’s 1831 Hebridean journey.

The focus is on his brief stay on Islay, where he made many sketches of the ruins on Eilean Mor in Loch Finlaggan, the administrative centre of the mediaeval Lords of the Isles.

However, Turner was not a methodical sketcher and Loch Coruisk on Skye shares a page with Port Askaig on Islay, the Cuillins with Finlaggan. In addition there are views of Tarbert on Loch Fyne, Gigha, Jura, Staffa and Mull.

The exhibition organised by the Finlaggan Trust committee will display digital images of original sketch book pages, and mounted printed copies.

It will be opened by Patricia Halsall, a close friend of Dr David S Wallace – Hadrill, the Turner researcher who first alerted the Trust to the sketches.

Says a spokesperson: “Although he died several years ago many of the drawings on view were identified by his correspondence with the committee.

“Further identifications were made by Thomas Ardill through research carried out as part of the Turner Bequest Cataloguing project at Tate Britain and will be published online: ‘J.M.W. Turner: Drawings, Watercolours and Sketchbooks’ (”

Gina McAuslan, chair of the Finlaggan Trust committee, said: “This exhibition records another episode in Finlaggan’s history and shows that the story of the Lords of the Isles was widely known in the 19th century.

“We will be showing images of the original pages on screen, and enlarged prints for people to study in more detail. By using reproductions of the sketches from a bound sketchbook, they can be seen side by side with the advantage of enlargement and digital enhancement.”

Adds the spokesperson: “Turner’s Hebridean visit was probably inspired by a combination of research for his illustration of Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘Lord of the Isles’ and his fascination with paddle steamers which had come into service in the 1820s.

“A section of the exhibition is given over to information about the steamers he’d have used, probably the Maid of Islay from Tarbert to Islay, and from his own correspondence, the Maid of Morven to Staffa and Mull.

“It includes an excerpt from a ‘gently satirical’ 1829 Gaelic story by the Rev Norman MacLeod of a Maid of Morven voyage, extracted with Donald E Meek’s permission from his article ‘Early Steamship Travel from the Other Side’.”

The exhibition will run at the Finlaggan Information Centre from 17 July until September. The opening night is free, thereafter admission will be at normal Information Centre opening times and entrance charges. The sketches are shown under licence from Tate Britain and the exhibition is funded by the Big Lottery (Awards for All).

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