Joseph Mallord William Turner Study for a Nativity Scene: Kirkstall Abbey c.1800–5

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Artwork details

Study for a Nativity Scene: Kirkstall Abbey
Date c.1800–5
Medium Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 257 x 200 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXX R
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

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This sketch is based on a view of Kirkstall Abbey in the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook. There the view is of the south aisle and nave from the south transept, but in this pen and ink study Turner has reversed the whole composition, perhaps contemplating the process involved when engraving an image. The romantic ruins seem to be the setting for a nativity subject. This is confirmed by the figure groups sketched above the main design, where a woman is seen cradling and wrapping a baby. The style suggests a date of between 1800 and 1805, a period when Turner frequently made tentative drafts for historical subjects, one of which resulted in his 1803 oil painting of the Holy Family (T1).

September 2004

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