Joseph Mallord William Turner

Malmesbury: The Ruined West Front of the Abbey


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 332 × 229 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XXXVIII 3

Catalogue entry

The present ruins at Malmesbury, and those that Turner knew, are the remains of a large twelfth-century Romanesque Abbey; the foundation can be dated to the seventh century. It prospered particularly as the shrine of St Aldhelm, its second Abbot. After the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s most of the structure was demolished or allowed to decay, but the nave was rescued to become the parish church. The sombre washes that Turner employs here, together with the stopping-out technique that produces subdued lights in the drawing, testify to his sense of the brooding mystery of such antiquities. It was that sense of mystery that led him to create some of his most atmospheric watercolours of the 1790s, notably the interiors of the Transept of Ewenny Priory, Glamorganshire (National Museum Wales, Cardiff)1 and Durham Cathedral (Tate D01101; Turner Bequest XXXVI G).
Turner had made several watercolours of Malmesbury following his first visit in 1791 (see the Bristol and Malmesbury sketchbook; Tate; Turner Bequest VI), but this time he did not work any of his studies up into any important statement of his response to the building, despite the evidence on five sheets here for a series of commissions from Sir Richard Colt Hoare. In fact, no views were finished for Colt Hoare; see the note to folio 3 recto (D01253; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 4).
Including the present page, the complete sequence of Malmesbury subjects in this book is: folios 2 recto, 3 recto, 4 recto, 5 recto, 6 recto, 7 recto, 8 recto, 9 recto, 10 recto, 11 recto, 12 recto, 13 recto (D01252, D01253, D01250, D01251, D01328, D01340, D01254–D01259; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 3, 4, 1, 2, 74, 86, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). See the contemporary Dynevor Castle sketchbook for further views of Malmesbury Abbey and the town: (Tate D01470–D01471, D01478–D01479, D01482–D01483, D01485–D01486); Turner Bequest XL 5a–6, 9a–10, 11a–12, 13a–14).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.325 no.227, pl.28.
Blank, apart from a pink colour trial; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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