Joseph Mallord William Turner

West Malling: St Mary’s Abbey with the Cascade; a Study of Posts and a Signpost


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 452 × 294 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XVII I

Display caption

Turner trained as an architectural draughtsman, and most of his work during the 1790s featured historic buildings. This watercolour, which was made during these years, seems to have been torn from a sketchbook. It combines an interest in the ‘picturesque elements of run-down rustic buildings with the historic interest of old ruins.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

The main subject is the north corner of the west front of the Abbey, a Benedictine foundation which was in private ownership in Turner’s time, and is once again a religious foundation today. The identification of the site has been confirmed by Mr Tim Harker of West Malling. The Abbey was purchased and converted into a residence by Fraser Honeywood; it passed to his son Sir John Honeywood, who sold the property to George Foote in 1799. The fountain was restored in 1810 (the date is given on an extant plaque), giving it the appearance of a neo-gothick folly, but Turner’s record suggests that it was indeed a late medieval structure belonging to the original Abbey. See also the drawing on the verso of this sheet (D40228). Another view of the Abbey, showing the west front and dating from the same time, was sold at Sotheby’s, London, 7 June 2006 (366, reproduced in colour; Sotheby’s catalogued the drawing as showing East Malling, rather than West Malling, citing an inscription purporting to be Turner’s own but clearly spurious: it read ‘East Malling Abbey | Kent | J.M.W.Turner RA Delt’).
Stylistically the watercolour is close to Turner’s ‘Llandewi Skyrrid’ subjects (Tate D00143–D00145; Turner Bequest XII N, O, P) but may belong to a slightly earlier time: the figures, for instance, are less accomplished. There is a pencil study of posts and a signpost below.
Technical notes:
The sheet of Whatman card, folded twice across the centre, has been used as the cover of a portfolio or sketchbook; there are holes for lacing along either side of the fold.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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