About this artwork

This drawing shows how rural northern Edinburgh looked just before the building of its New Town in the late eighteenth century. The drawing dates from after the building of Gayfield House in 1765, which is the Dutch-gabled building on the extreme right. Small figures, possibly farm workers, make their way along the road in the foreground. They are only lightly suggested with dabs of wash. Echoing their presence is a flotilla of boats in the Firth of Forth, voyaging out to sea. Clerk rendered greater detail in these distant ships than in the foreground figures, reflecting his own interests in the sea, and the navy in particular. At this time, merchant ships were often accompanied by naval vessels for protection. In Clerk's convoy, the larger tall ship may be serving this purpose.

John Clerk of Eldin

John Clerk of Eldin

Clerk was an exceptional amateur artist. His wealthy background afforded him the luxury of entertaining numerous careers, including medicine and business, and he also showed a considerable interest in geology. In the 1740s he began sketching alongside his brother-in-law, Robert Adam, and the artist Paul Sandby. Clerk travelled extensively throughout Scotland, recording a wide range of landscapes and ancient buildings. His sketches of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas are highly personal representations of his native countryside. Clerk's youthful fascination with the sea and the navy resulted in his famous study 'An Essay on Naval Tactics' (1790), which he developed throughout the 1790s.