Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Agatha’s Abbey, Easby


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 390 × 501 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 31

Catalogue entry

In positing this colour study as an undeveloped subject for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales, Eric Shanes notes that Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, was suggested as the subject in its display caption for the 1984 Tate Gallery exhibition Turner’s Tour of Richmondshire/Yorkshire, organised by Judy Egerton and David Hill.1 However, in Hill’s related book, it was noted as relating to a pencil drawing of ‘St. Agatha’s Abbey, Easby from the south-east, Richmond in the distance’ in the 1816 Yorkshire 4 sketchbook (Tate D11474; Turner Bequest CXLVII 21).2
The side elevation of a ruined Gothic church seen through trees superficially resembles an 1816 view of Bolton Abbey from the north in the Devonshire Rivers, No.3, and Wharfedale sketchbook (Tate D09876; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 75); a view from the south in the same sketchbook (Tate D09885, D09887; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 81, 82) was the basis of the watercolour Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire of about 1825 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight),3 engraved in 1827 for England and Wales.
In fact, the Yorkshire 4 Easby sketch appears indisputably to be the source here: despite the lack of detail in the distance, various incidental architectural details, including smaller buildings silhouetted in front of the ruin and an arch corresponding to one in the pencil drawing towards the right, correlate closely, while the forms of all the trees in the foreground, rough as they appear, are also traceable directly to those in the sketch. Only the sun, a reserved disk of white paper in the golden sky, between the two trees towards the right, is misleading, in that in placing it there Turner shows it shining from the north. It was clearly placed there as part of an ‘ethereal’,4 contre-jour effect recalling Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), so admired and so often emulated by Turner.5
Turner had first visited the site in 1797, recording the ruin in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00930, D00931; Turner Bequest XXXIV 24, 25) and subsequently making watercolours of other aspects (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; British Museum, London).6 A watercolour of about 1821 (also British Museum),7 compositionally related to the Whitworth’s but probably also informed by a pencil view in the 1816 Yorkshire 2 sketchbook (Tate D11224; Turner Bequest CXLV 112), was engraved in 1822 for Whitaker’s History of Richmondshire (Tate impressions: T04443, T04444, T06036).
Shanes 1997, p.95.
Hill 1984, p.31; see also Warrell 2002, p.197.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.391 no.788, reproduced.
Warrell 2002, p.197.
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Wilton 1979, p.330 nos.273 and 274 respectively, both reproduced.
Ibid., p.364 no.561, reproduced.
See Warrell 2002, p.197.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

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