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: 306 × 488 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 89

Catalogue entry

Finberg described this loose colour study noncommittally as ‘Sunlight on ruins’. Under the guise of ‘?A burning warehouse’, first suggested by Andrew Wilton, it has been linked compositionally to the watercolour A Steamer at Adelaide Wharf, with London Bridge of about 1836, previously known as ‘Fire at Fennings Wharf, on the Thames at Bermondsey’1 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester),2 although the two have little in common except a sense of buildings against billowing skies. Wilton initially rejected the apparent similarity to the views of St Agatha’s Abbey, Easby discussed below, since ‘a conflagration is clearly indicated, and the sky is apparently dark’,3 but later he did link the present work to Turner’s views of the abbey ruins,4 while reserving the possibility that it represented a fire.5
Turner had first visited Easby, near Richmond in North Yorkshire, in 1797, recording the ruin in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00930, D00931; Turner Bequest XXXIV 24, 25) and subsequently made watercolours of two different aspects (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; British Museum, London).6
A watercolour of about 1821 or earlier (also British Museum),7 compositionally similar 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). Both versions shows the site across the River Swale from the south, with the furthest, vertical part of the ruins dark against a background of hills and sky, a tonal relationship which the present study reverses.
Eric Shanes notes that St Agatha’s Abbey was suggested as the subject in this work’s display caption for the 1984 Tate Gallery exhibition Turner’s Tour of Richmondshire/Yorkshire,8 organised by Judy Egerton and David Hill. In Hill’s related book, it is described as a ‘colour beginning’ for the Richmondshire watercolour, dated there to 1817–18,9 along with two other colour studies: one at Tate, apparently watermarked 181910 (D25483; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 360), and one in a private collection.11 Hill’s 1980 York exhibition catalogue had made the same connections, albeit dating the works to about 1819.12
Wilton 1975, p.125; followed by Hartley 1984, p.55, and Nugent and Croal 1997, p.102.
Wilton 1979, p.359 no.523, reproduced.
Wilton 1975, p.125.
Wilton 1979, p.404.
See ibid., pp.218, 227 note 80.
Ibid., p.330 nos.273 and 274 respectively, both reproduced.
Ibid., p.364 no.561, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, p.96.
Hill 1984, p.106 under no.6.
Finberg 1909, II, p.842; the sheet since laid down on heavy paper rendering the watermark’s date illegible.
Wilton 1979, p.404 no.892, not reproduced, and not seen by the present author.
Hill and others 1980, pp.83–4.
Wilton 1979, p.404.
Shanes 1990, pp.80, 283 note 52.
Shanes 1997, pp.196, 103, 105; for Tate D25483 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 360), the likely earlier study, see pp.100–1 and 103, where it is noted as ‘dated incorrectly’ in Shanes 1990, given its 1819 watermark, with the Richmondshire watercolour consequently redated to c.1819.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like