Joseph Mallord William Turner

Kirkstall Abbey, on the River Aire

1824

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 160 x 225 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D18146
Turner Bequest CCVIII M

Catalogue entry

Art historian David Hill points out that both pictures of Kirkstall produced for the Rivers series ‘show a south-east view of the abbey...[Turner] consciously manipulate[ing] the angle to be the same in each composition’ to provide a sense of continuity and comparison.1 This view of the abbey, then, ‘records the traditional, Arcadian ideal, the kind of ideal (if never quite the reality) of the world into which he [Turner] was born’.2 In contrast, writes Hill, Turner’s view of Kirkstall Lock represents ‘the changing, fractious, accelerating...human world that he came to acknowledge and inhabit’.3
Though the sketches for this watercolour were made in in the winter, here Turner offers an image of late summer lushness. On the left a woman herds her cattle to drink from a pool of fresh water, rendered with enticing reflectivity. A morning mist hangs heavy around the abbey which is ‘everywhere...mantled with luxurious ivy, – that generous plant, which throws a veil over the deformities of ruin, and adds to the impression of its grandeur and beauty’.4
Thomas Girtin’s drawing of Kirkstall Abbey on the River Aire was also included with Turner’s two drawings of Kirkstall in the Rivers of England series (T04868). Girtin was a great friend of Turner and the two had trained together as young men. They were both early visitors to the Leeds area under the patronage of Edward Lascelles of Harewood House.5 There is a fine pencil study and a finished watercolour of the abbey by Girtin of 1797 (Tate D36589, D36639; Turner Bequest CCCLXXVII 18, CCCLXXIX 12).
Ian Warrell writes that both this watercolour and the view of Kirkstall Lock (Tate D18145; Turner Bequest CCVIII L) were ‘probably made at Farnley’, the Yorkshire estate of Turner’s close friend Walter Fawkes.6
For Turner’s sketches and studies of Kirkstall Abbey see the North of England sketchbook of 1797 (Tate D00916–D00922; Turner Bequest XXXIV 10a–16); the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook of the same date (Tate D01083, D01083; Turner Bequest XXXV 2, 81); the Kirkstall sketchbook of 1808 (Tate D07258–D07273, D07278; Turner Bequest CVII 2–16, 21); the Kirkstall Lock sketchbook of 1809 (Tate D12254–D12257, D12260; Turner Bequest CLV13–16, 19); and finally the Brighton and Arundel sketchbook of about 1824 (Tate D18390–D18391, D18393–D18399, D18409–D18416; Turner Bequest CCX 48–48a, 50–53, 58a–62).
This drawing was engraved in mezzotint by John Bromley and was published in 1826 (Tate impressions T04810, T04811, T06371).
1
Hill 2008, p.180.
2
Ibid.
3
Ibid.
4
Hofland 1827, p.20, pl.16.
5
Hill 2008, p.166–169.
6
Warrell 1994, p.33, no.15

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

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