J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Kirkstall Lock, on the River Aire 1824-5

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Kirkstall Lock, on the River Aire 1824–5
Turner Bequest CCVIII L
Watercolour on white wove watercolour paper, 159 x 235 mm
Watermark J Wh[atman] | Turk[ey Mill]
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
‘Although it is nominally a ‘Picturesque View’ on the River Aire, this watercolour summarises with characteristic comprehensiveness the social and economic history of the spot’, write Ann Chumbley and Ian Warrell.1 The drawing depicts the ‘interplay of modernism and history’2: Turner juxtaposing the ruins of the medieval Cistercian monastery at the banks of the Aire in the middle distance with the foregrounded labours of quarry masons on the left and boatmen readying their craft to pass through the Lock onto the Leeds and Liverpool Canal on the right. ‘Leeds’ is seen inscribed in paint on one of the sailing barges. According to art historian Stephen Daniels, these vessels were ‘an essential ingredient of the iconography of Leeds in topographical depictions of the city’, so much so that they featured in contemporary poetry.3 In his poem The Fleece John Dyer exhorts ‘Roll the full cars down the winding Aire/Load the slow sailing barges’ while John Nicholson celebrates the river’s barges’ ‘sails unfurling in commercial pride’ in his Airedale.4
The Aire had been made navigable in 1699 and construction of the Canal in 1770 provided the industrial city of Leeds and its neighbouring towns access to ports, markets, and sources of raw materials.5 The scene is taken from Kirkstall Brewery and also incorporates the Leeds and Bradford turnpike, marked out by the dashing coach and horses.6 In all, this is an image in which ‘Turner emphasises how times are changing and how, through laying strong foundations, Britons were harnessing their land’.7 Notwithstanding, the art historian David Hill has also suggested that in this drawing Turner highlights the increasing dominance of road travel over river. Hill points out that the bridge was ‘too low to allow the barges to pass without lowering their sails and masts’ and that it did not accommodate the canal and the path for tow horses in the same span.8 The result of these problems present itself in the ‘bottleneck of canal traffic’ which is show in direct contrast to the freely moving road traffic.9
The contrast between ancient (the abbey) and modern (the foregrounded industry) is acknowledged by the author Barbara Hofland who writes that: ‘The air of life and activity which pervade this scene, offer a fine contrast to the twilight view, where the holy ruins of Kirkstall Abbey lie in deep repose... It is impossible to look on the present busy scene without reverting to the past.’10 The abbey is depicted by Turner in a seemingly pre-industrial context in his accompanying view of Kirkstall for the Rivers of England (Tate D18146; Turner Bequet CCVIII L).
The colouring in this drawing is complex: it is built up of minute stipples and hatching of multiple tones, creating a chromatic and textural richness. Studies for this design are found in the Kirkstall Lock sketchbook of 1809 (Tate D12240–D12260; Turner Bequest CLV 1–19) and in the Brighton and Arundel sketchbook of about 1824 (Tate D18413, D18414, D18416; Turner Bequest CCX 60a, 61, 62).
This drawing was engraved in mezzotint by William Say and was published in 1827 (Tate impression T04816).
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.47, no.45 reproduced.
Rodner 1997, p.95.
Daniels 1986, p.15.
John Dyer, The Poetical Works of John Dyer, Oxford 1779, ‘The Fleece’, Book III, p.103, lines 312–3 and John Nicholson, Airedale in Ancient Times, London 1825, p.vi; both quoted in Daniels 1986, p.15.
Warrell, Kelly, et al 2007, p.109, no.70 reproduced (colour).
Rodner 1997, p.96.
Hamilton 1998, p.95–6.
Hill 2008, p.179.
Hofland 1827, pp.15–6, pl.12.
Stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram at centre and with ‘CCVIII L’ at centre towards top; inscribed in pencil ‘33’ at centre and ‘L’ at centre towards right.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

How to cite

Alice Rylance-Watson, ‘Kirkstall Lock, on the River Aire 1824–5 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, August 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-kirkstall-lock-on-the-river-aire-r1146209, accessed 25 May 2024.