'Lost' Turner watercolour on show at Sir Walter Scott's former home

A small painting is causing great excitement at Abbotsford, near Melrose, the former home of Sir Walter Scott, where it is on display as part of an exhibition this summer.

Compelling research and scientific analysis strongly suggests that the postcard size painting of Sir Walter Scott and his family may be a lost watercolour by J.M.W. Turner.

The pocket-sized watercolour, measuring just five and a half by three and a half inches, was recently discovered in a provincial London auction house and is now on loan to The Abbotsford Trust as part of its current exhibition, Turner and Scott: The Painter and the Poet.

The Abbotsford Trust suspects that this previously unknown painting may have become a private family memento linked with Turner’s visit to Scott’s home in the summer of 1831. Now the Trust hopes to shed light on this mystery two hundred years after the artist and the writer first met in 1818. It is continuing to facilitate ongoing research into the history and composition of this tiny treasure, and is encouraging all those curious about its story to come and see the painting for themselves.

The little painting has been the subject of much analysis, from pigment analysis to infrared imaging, and is currently being displayed at Abbotsford in the frame in which it was sealed when it was discovered - a frame which dates to the lifetime of J.M.W Turner himself. If it is genuine, it may be an earlier version of another painting of Abbotsford that was used as the inspiration for an engraving published in Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, a commemorative biography published after the famous writer’s death.

Kirsty Archer-Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager of the Abbotsford Trust and curator of the exhibition commented: “This painting is, quite frankly, electric. Everything about it, from the minutiae in the detail and the use of scraping out highlights, to the evolution of its composition from pencil sketch to painting - a whole world only visible through infrared scanning - suggests to me that it is not the work of a copyist.

“All of this analysis, including work by painting analysis expert, Dr. Libby Sheldon, demonstrates that it was executed by an astonishingly skilled hand. Turner was a master of these highly intricate and delicate watercolour illustrations - two of which are already owned by The Abbotsford Trust.

“Everything about this little painting feels authentic and consistent with the great man. I hope that we can prove the theory with the help and support of enthusiasts and experts in the art world.”

James Holloway, Chairman of the Abbotsford Trust and former Director of the Scottish National
Portrait Gallery, commented:

“It is wonderful for Abbotsford to be able to show such a fascinating painting. It will intrigue and delight our visitors. To think that we are publicly displaying the
watercolour for the very first time since it was painted by Turner is also tremendously exciting.”