Joseph Mallord William Turner

Kirkstall Abbey, with the Adoration of the Shepherds


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 254 × 200 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXX R

Display caption

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).

Gallery label, September 2004

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