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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?St Agatha's Abbey, Easby c.1830

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
?St Agatha’s Abbey, Easby c.1830
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 89
Watercolour on white wove paper, 306 x 488 mm
Inscribed in red ink ‘89’ bottom right (now very faint)
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 89’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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 dated the private collection study to ‘?c.1830’, suggesting that it ‘[d]erived from [present author’s italics]’ the Richmondshire design, and (implying a similar date) suggested that D25483 and the present work might be ‘for an England and Wales design’.13 Eric Shanes at first linked all three colour studies to the Richmondshire watercolour, which he then dated to about 1817;14 later, while revising the finished watercolour’s date to about 1819 and (as seems likely given their close similarities in composition and colouring) leaving D25483 as a study for it, he concurred with
Wilton in considering the present work as an undeveloped England and Wales design.15 Given the loose handling and slightness of its composition, comparable with other England and Wales colour studies assigned to the late 1820s or early 1830s, Wilton’s and Shanes’s dating is retained here, although the identification of the subject itself remains somewhat insecure.
For an England and Wales-type colour study definitely showing the abbey, see Tate D25153 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 31). See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
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.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘AB 150 P | O’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCLXIII – 89’ bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII. 89 | D.25211’ bottom right.
The ‘AB’ number corresponds with the endorsement on one of the parcels of works sorted by John Ruskin during his survey of the Turner Bequest, in this case classified by him as ‘Colour dashes on white. Valueless’.1

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?St Agatha’s Abbey, Easby c.1830 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, December 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-st-agathas-abbey-easby-r1144328, accessed 28 May 2024.