This is one of ten large pencil drawings including D12110, D12111, D12113, D12115, D12116, D12118, D12119, D12120 and D12121 (Turner Bequest CLIV L, M, N, Q, R, T, U, V, W) that form a coherent group of views 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. The present writer has dubbed the group the ‘Wharfedale and Washburn’ sketchbook, and although the drawings do not actually form a sketchbook, they nevertheless appear to represent 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. They must have been problematic to handle in the open air, and we must presume that weather conditions were benign to have made it at all feasible to work with them.
The present sketch shows a view of Bolton Abbey from the north, taken from the top of a bluff above the right bank of the Wharfe, a little way upstream, near the present Cavendish Memorial. The group contains two other sketches from nearby: D12116 (CLIV R), taken from the bottom of the bluff a little way to the left, and D12118 (CLIV T), taken from the riverbank a little further upstream. The present sketch served as the basis of a studio watercolour of Bolton Abbey from the North (British Museum, London)1 painted for Walter Fawkes and dated 1809, suggesting a date of 1808 (or 1809) for the whole group. Turner returned to exactly the same viewpoint in about 1816 in the Devonshire Rivers, No.3, and Wharfedale sketchbook (Tate D09876; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 75).
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.360 no. 532.