Popular annual exhibition of Turner water colours at NGI

Popular annual exhibition of Turner water colours at NGI Edinburgh from below Arthur’s Seat, JMW Turner, 1801.

There is still time to catch the annual showing of the Henry Vaughan Bequest of Turner watercolours at the National Gallery of Ireland before it closes at the end of the month. It is in the Print Gallery, reached from Clare Street, and is free with no booking needed.

The Henry Vaughan Bequest is a free annual display of light-filled Turner watercolours, bequeathed by English collector Henry Vaughan in 1900. This year’s selection will include the 31 Vaughan Bequest works, and five additional Turner watercolours, alongside eight of the artist’s much-loved Liber Studiorum prints.

These often very delicate images are shown in carefully controlled conditions, but they are truly remarkable. They show scenes in many countries captured in the swiftest and most impressionist brush strokes, moments of calm contrasting with storm and wave.

Ostend Harbour, c. 1840.

These works were most often the basis of later paintings, but also of engraving for travel and topographical works in those “scenes of our own and other nations” sort of titles. They were used so often that we will all have seen them used as illustrations without knowing we are looking at a Turner image.

The earliest of the images here, Edinburgh from below Arthur’s Seat might be called a very “Celtic” scene, captures well the often sodden air around the Scottish capital. It is in contrast to the two scenes from forty years later, The Harbour at Ostend and The Doge’s Palace, Venice which are brilliant with light and sea mist in contrast.


Water colour is often the first medium that children learn to use. It may seem easy compared with painting in oils, but the amateur has to work hard to achieve a memorable image.

The Doge’s Palace Venice, c. 1840.

Turner’s genius, by contrast, was to deftly capture the essence of a scene or landscape. I have seen these images many times in the past. But they are always a source of pleasure, which brings light to the grim of dark days of January.

Meanwhile, the full scale Turner show, “The Sun is God”, on loan from the Tate in London continues to February 6. That too is well worth seeing, though there is an admission charge and visits must be booked.

Curator: Niamh MacNally. Continues to 31 January 2023 in the Print Gallery, admission free.