Joseph Mallord William Turner

Reading Abbey


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 69 × 112 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXII 24 a

Catalogue entry

The fragmentary ruins of Reading Abbey still stand on the south bank of the River Thames in the Forbury area of the town, hemmed in by the prison, the railway and modern civic buildings. There is an unobstructed view south to the ruins from the river by the French artist Louis Bélanger (1736–1816, exhibiting in London in the 1790s) among other Thames watercolours (Government Art Collection, London). Turner’s viewpoint is difficult to establish owing to both the slightness of his sketch (inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation) and later developments, but he may show the Thames in the rather indistinct foreground.
The drawing continues a little to the left on folio 25 recto opposite (D80321). There other confirmed or likely Reading views on folios 25 verso, 26 verso, 27 recto and 31 verso (D08322, D08324, D08325, D08332); the latter possibly shows the abbey’s gateway. Reading is the county town of Berkshire (the ceremonial county now comprised of unitary authorities), standing between two key Turner locales, London and Oxford, mid-way along the Thames Valley, itself an important source of inspiration for the artist.1 However, there are few identified Reading views, limited outside the present sketchbook to those made around Caversham, on the opposite side of the river, in the 1805 Thames, from Reading to Walton book (Tate D05905, D05913, D05942, D05945; Turner Bequest XCV 1, 9, 38, 41); there is also an oil sketch of perhaps a year or two later showing Caversham Bridge with Cattle in the Water (Tate N02697).2
With varying degrees of certainty, various other drawings in this sketchbook show the Thames Valley (see the Introduction).

Matthew Imms
September 2013

See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.117 no.162, pl.162.

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