184
184
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.
MALMESBURY ABBEY, WILTSHIRE
Estimate
200,000300,000
LOT SOLD. 314,750 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
184
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.
MALMESBURY ABBEY, WILTSHIRE
Estimate
200,000300,000
LOT SOLD. 314,750 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master & British Works on Paper

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Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.
LONDON 1775 - 1851
MALMESBURY ABBEY, WILTSHIRE
Watercolour over pencil, heightened with bodycolour, stopping out and scratching out
288 by 414 mm
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Probably Thomas Tomkison (c. 1764-1853);
H.A.J. Munro, of Novar (1794-1864);
his sale, London, Christie's, 6 April 1878, lot 93, bt. Vokins;
J. Grant Morris,
sale, London, London, 23 April 1898, lot 63, bt. Agnew's;
with Agnew's, London;
R.E. Tatham;
C. Hiltermann;
sale, London, Christie's, 14 June 1977, lot 151, bt. Oscar & Peter Johnson;
with Oscar & Peter Johnson Ltd. London;
Private Collection, Britain

Exhibited

London, Moon, Boys, and Graves Gallery, 1833, no. 40;
London, Guildhall, Pictures and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner and some of his Contemporaries, 1899;
London, Agnew's, Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings by Turner, Cox and De Wint, 1924, no. 40

Literature

Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London 1908, pp. 187 & 265;
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol. I, p. 130;
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p. 394, no. 805;
E. Shanes, Turner's Picturesque Views in England and Wales 1825-1838, London 1983, p. 28, cat. no. 20;
E. Shanes, Turner's England 1810-38, London 1990, p. 182, no. 152;
I. Warrell, Turner's Wessex, Architecture and Ambition, London 2015, pp. 132-4, fig. 130

Engraved:

by J.C. Varrall, 1829, for Heath's Picturesque Views in England and Wales

Catalogue Note

This watercolour dates to circa 1827 and shows Malmesbury Abbey from the north, on a glorious summer’s morning. It is still very early and although the great ruins are already bathed in a golden light, in the valley below, a blue/grey mist can be seen rising off the cool waters of the River Avon. The foreground is flooded with light and while, to the right, cattle warm themselves in the sun, to the left, a milkmaid is held in conversation by an admirer. Turner adds to the subtle drama of this meeting by including two children, who seem to be spying on the couple from the nearby bushes.

This celebrated watercolour was among the first works to be engraved for Charles Heath’s publishing project Picturesque Views in England and Wales. In February 1825, Heath wrote enthusiastically to a friend ‘I have just begun a most splendid work [with] Turner the Academician. He is making me 120 drawings of England and Wales – I have got four and they are the finest things I ever saw… I mean to have them engraved by all the first Artists.’1 The publication was to be produced in parts and the first tranche was ready by March 1827. Malmesbury was engraved in 1829 by J.C. Varrall and included in the fifth volume. In the summer of 1833, Heath organised an exhibition of sixty-six watercolours from the series, including the present work, at the Moon, Boys and Graves Gallery at 6 Pall Mall, London. After a soirée one evening at the gallery, The Times reported that ‘two hundred artists and literati’2 had been present and it was also noted that ‘Turner himself was there, his coarse, stout person, heavy look and homely manners contrasting strangely with the marvellous beauty and grace of the surrounding creations of his pencil.’3 Despite the critical success of the exhibition, the engravings were unprofitable for Heath. By 1836 he had decided to reduce the number of prints to ninety-six and in 1838 the project was abandoned all together.

Malmesbury Abbey lies about thirty miles to the north-east of Bristol and the 12th century ruins had captivated Turner since his first visit, aged only sixteen, in 1791. He was to return there the following year and once again in 1798. On that last occasion, he made a detailed pencil drawing of the abbey from a distance in his Hereford Court Sketchbook and it would seem that that sheet provided the starting point for the present work.4

In Malmesbury Abbey, Turner is working at the very height of his creative powers and the watercolour demonstrates the dazzling effects and techniques that he had perfected by the middle of the 1820s. Above all, his sense of colour is exquisite and the refined combination of pinks, yellows, greens and blues anticipates those great masters of the second half of the 19th century: the French Impressionists. 

This work has a long and interesting provenance. Its first owner was probably Thomas Tomkison (c.1764-1853), a celebrated piano maker, who had known Turner since their boyhood in Covent Garden.5 According to the original catalogue of the 1833, Moon, Boys and Graves Gallery exhibition, alongside Malmesbury, Tomkinson [sic] also owned another four watercolours from the England and Wales Series.6 The work later belonged to the legendary Turner collector, Hugh Munro of Novar (see lot 191 for more details), before gracing several other distinguished collections. It last appeared at auction in June 1977.

We are grateful to Ian Warrell and Cecilia Powell for their help when cataloguing this work.

1. E. Shanes, lit.op.cit. p.13
2. E. Shanes, lit.op.cit., p.16
3. Ibid
4. Tate Britain TB XXXVIII I
5. The spelling of the name Tomkison varies throughout the literature. Sometimes it is spelt: Tomkison, on other occasions: Tomkinson and on others: Tomiknson.
6. E. Shanes, lit.op.cit, p.157

 

Old Master & British Works on Paper

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