Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rievaulx Abbey from Ryedale


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 179 x 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXIV 55

Catalogue entry

The village of Rievaulx lies near Helmsley in North Yorkshire. Its abbey was founded in 1131 and ruined following dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538; it is now in the care of English Heritage.1 The church is seen from the south-west, with Ashberry Hill on the left and the North York Moors rising beyond, from the road beside the River Rye not far north of Rievaulx Bridge, the viewpoint for the sketch on folio 16 verso (D09877; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 75a).
The watercolour design of about 1806–7 for Turner’s Liber Studiorum (Tate D08154; Turner Bequest CXVII Z), engraved as Rivaux [sic] Abbey, Yorkshire and published in 1812 (Tate impressions: A01012, A01013, A01014), was taken from an 1801 drawing (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), detached from the Smaller Fonthill sketchbook (some pages at Tate; Turner Bequest XLVIII). Turner made drawings of Rievaulx in the same year in the Dunbar sketchbook (Tate D02614, D02784, D02786, D02788, D02790, D02792; Turner Bequest LIV 1, 102a, 103a, 104a, 105a, 106a).
The present sketch is the basis of a 1820s watercolour (York Art Gallery),2 engraved in 1827 as Rivaulx [sic] Abbey, Yorkshire for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impression: T04503, T04504, T06071), with cattle, and a fisherman tying a fly in the foreground. Eric Shanes has suggested that the watercolour may be an informal pendant to the England and Wales view of Bolton Abbey, based on another drawing in this book (folios 10 verso–11 recto; D09885, D09887; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 81, 82), where another fisherman is seen engaged in the same activity.
A smaller, superficially similar watercolour (Tate N05615)3 was engraved for the Gallery of Modern British Artists in 1836 (Tate impression: T05151); it has a busier foreground with riders and resting travellers, and the most obvious difference is the inclusion of the stone bridge from folio 16 verso on the right, making the composition an amalgam of the two views in this sketchbook.
In his entry discussing a view from nearby Sutton Bank in the Yorkshire 6 sketchbook (Tate D11896; Turner Bequest CXLIX 295), David Hill suggests that the two sites were likely visited as part of the same itinerary, probably in 1816. For other Yorkshire subjects, see the sketchbook’s Introduction.
See ‘History of Rievaulx Abbey’, English Heritage, accessed 25 April 2014,
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.391 no.785, as c.1826; Hill and others 1980, p.92 no.143 as ?c.1822–5; Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, p.164 no.135, reproduced in colour, as c.1825.
Wilton 1979, p.436 no.1151, reproduced.

Matthew Imms
July 2014

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