Choosing a low viewpoint, Turner looks northwards across the nave towards Abbot Marmaduke Huby’s early sixteenth century tower. Poignantly, perhaps, it is nearing the end of the day and the stones of the ancient building glow orange in the late afternoon sun. Time has taken its toll and Turner has intentionally highlighted the weeds, shrubs and even trees that appear to be thriving on the masonry. Nature is encroaching from every direction, so much so that one might feel a little sorry for the gardener who stands dwarfed by her surroundings while sweeping up leaves with a long elegant rake.
Turner first visited Fountains Abbey in 1797, during a two-month tour of the north. On that occasion he drew the monastery from a variety of angles in both his Tweed and Lakes and North of England sketchbooks.1 Upon his return to London he painted The Dormitory and Transept of Fountains Abbey – Evening, a large watercolour that he then exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798.2
In 1815 Turner returned to the abbey once again and the present watercolour is based on a pencil drawing that appears in the so-called Devonshire River No. 3 and Wharfedale sketchbook.3 As he had done annually since 1808, he stayed with Walter Fawkes at Farnley Hall, which is situated to the north of Leeds, just outside the old market town of Otley. On this particularly visit Turner was busy collecting material for a major project called The History of Richmondshire, whereby he had been invited by the publisher Longman to paint 120 watercolours that would illustrate Dr Thomas Dunham Whitaker’s book of the same name. The present work was not engraved, but its size, technique and subject matter suggest that it may well relate to this ambitious scheme.
Interior of Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire has an exceptional provenance. Its first owner was Walter Fawkes himself, Turner’s Yorkshire host and very close friend. Furthermore, Fawkes was the artist’s most enthusiastic early patron and by 1825, the year of his untimely death, he had acquired nine oil paintings and well over 200 watercolours.
The second great owner was John Edward Taylor, who had acquired the work by 1890. Taylor was the proprietor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper whose collection comprised over one hundred works by Turner which he hung at his magnificent London house, 20 Kensington Palace Gardens. In 1892 he bequeathed 154 watercolours (including twenty-four works by Turner) to the newly founded Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and in 1912 Christie’s held a celebrated sale of the remainder of the collection. The present work appeared as lot 50 in that sale and it was acquired by Agnew’s on behalf of Taylor's nephew, John Edward Taylor Allen (1864-1919). The work has remained in that family collection since then and it was last seen in public in the winter of 2000/2001, when included in the Royal Academy’s landmark exhibition: Turner, The Great Watercolours. For other works by Turner from the J.E. Taylor collection in this sale, please see lots 397 and 421.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help when cataloguing this work.
1. Turner Bequest, Tate, Britain: XXXV 7 & XXXIV
2. A. Wilton, op. cit., p. 326, no. 238 (York City Art Gallery)
3. Turner Bequest, Tate, Britain: Devonshire Rover No. 3 and Wharfedale sketchbook T.B. CXXXIV – 64
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