Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Ruins of Kirkstall Abbey at Night


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 214 × 290 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXI H

Display caption

Both these studies can be traced back to pencil memoranda in the 1797 sketchbooks. In the case of the view of Bolton Abbey, Turner's drawing on the spot was little more than a hasty outline, which allowed him greater freedom in his imaginative realisation of the subject in watercolour. He seems to be experimenting in both works with the depiction of forms under subdued lighting conditions where the eye does not expect so much detail. In the view of Kirkstall Abbey he has attempted to transform an upright composition into a landscape format, but the resulting image does not entirely resolve the problems of scale and is such a distorted record of Kirkstall that it has resisted identification until now.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This is an essentially imaginary view, based on Turner’s impressions of Kirkstall when he visited it in 1797; see the drawings in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00915–D00922; Turner Bequest XXXIV 10–16) and the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook (Tate D01005, D01006, D01083; Turner Bequest XXXV 2, 3, 81). The viewpoint is in the nave, looking towards the crossing and choir with the north transept to the left. Finberg assigned this study to the first decade of the nineteenth century, and Turner scholar David Hill tentatively dates it to about 1800.
Although it may have been executed fairly soon after Turner’s visit to Kirkstall in 1797, it incorporates technical experiments typical of his work around 1799, notably the superimposition of washes of soft colour, especially blue and pink, partially reserved to allow under-layers to show through, as a foundation for the design. Compare studies made after the Welsh tour of 1798 (Tate D01115, D04166; Turner Bequest XXXVI U, LXX O). A colour study of Bolton Abbey, treated similarly, is Tate D08264 (Turner Bequest CXXI I). See also Tate D04169 (Turner Bequest LXX R), in which the Abbey is made the setting for a Nativity scene.
Blank; faint pencil lines and blue paint trials; inscribed in a later hand ‘17’; not stamped.

Andrew Wilton
January 2013

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