Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey

c.1806–7

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 184 x 255 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08142
Turner Bequest CXVII O

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching, aquatint and mezzotint by Turner, untitled, published Turner, 11 February 1812
Kirkstall Abbey, founded by the Cistercians in 1152, lies by the river Aire three miles west of the centre of Leeds. After the Reformation it fell into decay, and many of the buildings were put to agricultural use; there was a campaign of restoration in the late nineteenth century after the site passed to the ownership of the city,1 but the dormitory undercroft (rather than ‘crypt’ or ‘refectory’) shown in Turner’s Liber Studiorum design had collapsed in 1825.2
Turner visited the site on his tour of the North of England in 1797. Three other Liber designs were based on drawings from the same tour: Holy Island Cathedral, Dunstanborough Castle and Norham Castle on the Tweed (see Tate D08115, D08118, D08158; Turner Bequest CXVI N, Q, CXVIII D).
The present work is fundamentally derived from a pencil drawing (with the cows and distant landscape touched with watercolour) in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00916; Turner Bequest XXXIV 10a), though as the lettering of the Liber engraving indicates, it is nominally based on a larger watercolour, Refectory of Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London),3 which had been purchased for Soane’s collection in 1804.4 The latter is a proportionately wider composition, extending a little further to the right, and with other differences in lighting and detail – in particular, the cattle were rearranged as compared with the original sketch. In the present design, Turner freely rearranged the group and increased their size in relation to the pillar and corbel, effectively diminishing the scale of the architecture, but in the Liber print he reduced their prominence once more. Stopford Brooke admired the virtuoso effects of luminosity in the design, as ‘diffused light comes in on the right also through the windows, and it is with delightful skill that Turner has rendered the effect of this double light playing through the shadowy place.’5
1
‘Kirkstall Abbey’, Leeds City Council, accessed 9 December 2005, http://www.leeds.gov.uk/kirkstallabbey/kirk_st.html.
2
Hill 1997, p.22; see also pp.22–9.
3
Wilton 1979, p.325 no.234, reproduced p.49 pl.39.
4
Forrester 1996, pp.99, 100 note 2.
5
Brooke 1885, pp.128.
6
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.433.
7
‘Notes on Educational Series’ in Catalogue of Examples ..., in ibid., XXI 1906, p.132.
8
Ibid., VII 1903, pp.384, 385; see also Rawlinson 1878, p.81; and Brooke 1885, p.129.
9
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.32 no.39.
10
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
11
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
12
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
13
Rawlinson 1878, pp.77–85; 1906, pp.90–100; Finberg 1924, pp.145–64.
14
See Anne Lyles and Diane Perkins, Colour into Line: Turner and the Art of Engraving, exhibition catalogue, Clore Gallery, Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.47; and Forrester 1996, pp.99–100.
15
National Gallery Millbank: Review of the Acquisitions during the Years July, 1927–December, 1929, London 1930, p.58.
16
Tate Gallery, Millbank: Catalogue: British School: Twenty-Fifth Edition 1936–7, London 1936, p.357.
17
See Forrester 1996, pp.36, 39 note 105.
1
Forrester 1996, p.99 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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