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Turner in January 2018: once again, the Vaughan Bequest at the Scottish National Gallery
1 January, 2018
Joseph Mallord William Turner-. Falls of the Rhine at Schaffhausen, Side View about 1841
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 & McTaggart: 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.
Image: 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