Joseph Mallord William Turner

Bolton Abbey, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’

c.1830–2

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 243 x 308 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27696
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 179

Catalogue entry

This vignette, Bolton Abbey, was published in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems as the tail-piece to a poem, entitled ‘The Boy of Egremond’.1 The engraver was Robert Wallis.2 The illustration is the second of two vignettes that Turner designed for this poem, which tells of the son of twelfth-century noble William Fitz Duncan. Popularly known as the ‘Boy of Egremond’ (or Egremont), the youngster drowned while crossing the River Wharfe in Yorkshire at a narrow and especially turbulent point, known as the ‘Strid’.3 The first scene entitled, The Boy of Egremond, shows the young boy about to embark on his ill-fated crossing (see Tate D27695; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 178).
This illustration shows Bolton Abbey, a ruined twelfth-century priory built on the banks of the River Wharfe, downstream from the Strid. The building was commissioned by Alice de Romilly, the mother of the ‘Boy of Egremond’, in memory of her dead son. In the second half of his poem Rogers describes the abbey as the site of peaceful monastic life and remembrance. Turner marked the following lines with pencil in the margin of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI 203):
There now the matin-bell is rung;
The “Miserere!” duly sung;
And holy men in cowl and hood
Are wandering up and down the wood.
(Poems, p.185)
The quiet serenity of Turner’s illustration contrasts sharply with the final lines of Rogers’s poem, which end with the dramatic image of the River Wharfe rolling ‘red with blood’. Although the scene makes no direct allusion to the tragic origins of the abbey, there is nonetheless a mood of poignancy. The ruined state of the abbey, the placid lake, and the absence of life but for a pair of herons (one of which is eliminated in Wallis’s engraving) all contribute to the intensely tranquil and mournful tone of the watercolour.
Turner was familiar with Bolton Abbey and the landscape of Wharfedale, having visited the area several times between 1797 and 1825. He made a number of on-the-spot sketches of the location as well as various preparatory and finished watercolours. The composition for Rogers’s vignette reflects two topographical views purchased by Yorkshire landowner, Walter Fawkes (1769–1825). Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire circa 1809 (University of Liverpool Art Gallery),4 shows the abbey from the south, similar to the outlook in the later vignette. Another watercolour, Bolton Abbey 1809 (British Museum) depicts a similar view from the opposite direction.5
1
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.186.
2
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.394. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T05121).
3
Warrell 1994, p.168.
4
Wilton 1979, no.531.
5
Ibid., no.532.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

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