Turner’s approach to this complex and awe-inspiring subject is methodical and careful, with no attempt at bravura draughtsmanship. Passages of architecture that repeat motifs drawn elsewhere are not necessarily recorded. The intention was to gather information that could be used for finished watercolours. He produced two, and exhibited them at the Royal Academy in 1796 and 1797. The first (private collection)1 seems to have been purchased from the exhibition by Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead, who went on to commission views of Salisbury Cathedral which he stipulated should be the ‘Size of Ely’, presumably referring to his watercolour of the Octagon. Colt Hoare also acquired a view of Ely from the south (private collection).2 The second version of the present subject, now at Aberdeen Art Gallery,3 was executed for the Bishop of Ely, Dr Yorke. The groups of figures that Turner carefully records in his study appear in both finished works.
The sheet has been roughly torn to shape and folded along the sides round a drawing board.
Blank; laid down.