This is one of ten large pencil drawings including D12111, D12112, D12115, D12116, D12117, D12118, D12119, D12120 and D12121 (Turner Bequest CLIV M, N, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W) that form a coherent group of sketches in the Wharfe and Washburn Valleys near Farnley Hall, the Yorkshire home of Turner’s patron Walter Fawkes, and record a tour up the River Wharfe from Farnley to Bolton Abbey. Several formed the bases of finished watercolours, some of which are dateable to 1809. Although previously dubbed by the present writer the ‘Wharfedale and Washburn’ sketchbook, they do not in fact form a sketchbook but nevertheless appear to come from a single campaign, probably in the summer of 1808 on Turner’s first visit to Farnley. It is remarkable that Turner chose to sketch in pencil on such large sheets as these, and it is not at all clear what purpose the large scale was supposed to serve. The sheets must have been problematic to handle in the open air, and we must presume that weather conditions were benign to have made it feasible to work with them.
The present sketch shows a view of Barden Tower from the south. Barden Tower is a medieval hunting lodge about two miles up the River Wharfe from Bolton Abbey. It was built in the fifteenth century by the Clifford family of Skipton Castle and survives much as Turner shows it here. Turner’s viewpoint is a bluff above the river, a short way above the Strid, the subject of another sketch in the series (Tate D12119; Turner Bequest CLIV U). The present sketch formed the basis of a finished watercolour, Barden Tower on the Wharfe (private collection),1 painted for Fawkes about 1809.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.363 no.550.