- Museum number
Tintern Abbey, the transept; four figures amid the ruins which are overgrown by bushes, a wheelbarrow and broom in the foreground. c.1794
- Production date
- 1794 (circa)
Height: 345 millimetres
Width: 254 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following text by Timothy Wilcox is a summary of K. Sloan, 'Turner Watercolours in the Lloyd Bequest', BM, exh. cat., 1998, no. 3:
Turner made his first visit to the Wye valley in 1792 and returned there during his summer tour the following year. He exhibited his first watercolour of the abbey (a view of the choir) at the Royal Academy in 1794 (W 57, V&A) and another, 'The Transept of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire', in 1795. The composition is based on a drawing made on the spot, now in Wellesley College Museum, Massachusetts.
William Gilpin's 'Tour of the Wye' had already made the site extremely popular with the growing number of tourists in search of picturesque ruins which nature had made her own, where time had 'worn off the traces of rule, blunted the edges of chisel, broken regularity, and added her own ornament' (Gilpin, 1782, p. 31-2). Turner's training enabled him to make the most of the architectural framework of this ruin, but that may not have been the only reason why his most successful views of it were taken from the inside - Gilpin had also pointed out that its outward appearance was spoilt by the shabby houses surrounding it, inhabited by beggars. Turner was careful to people his view with tourists instead, and to disguise the abandoned wheelbarrow by blending it in with the plants and dirt floor in the foreground.
R.W. Lloyd believed his version to be the one shown at the Royal Academy in 1795,
as it had been identified as such when it was included in the Royal Academy Winter
Exhibition in 1887, when it was lent by the great Turner collector, John Edward Taylor. The mistake was repeated when Lloyd lent it to the Royal Academy in 1951.
Confusion about the two versions of this subject had been compounded by Finberg who in
1909 stated that the version owned by Taylor was a view of the choir and 'probably not by
Turner' (Inventory of the Turner Bequest, Vol.I, p. 37). In 1917, C.F.Bell identified the
work shown at the Royal Academy in 1795 as the version now in the Ashmolean Museum
(W58; Walpole Society, V, 1915-17, p. 77). When Lloyd purchased this drawing, Gerald
Agnew wrote to him explaining that Finberg had written to him recently saying that when he saw the drawing again at Taylor's sale in 1913, he had changed his mind and decided the
drawing was by Turner, promising he would put this right in his 'big Life of Turner'. When
the latter was finally published in 1939, Lloyd, by then the owner, must have been
disappointed to find his version was not mentioned at all and it was generally accepted that
the Ashmolean version was that exhibited in 1795. Many writers still doubted the
authenticity of Lloyd's version. In 1975, however, Andrew Wilton suggested that 'if
anything' the Ashmolean version 'with its hard summary detail and possibly false signature,
is the imitation' ('Turner in the British Museum' (5)).
Certainly Lloyd's version bears all the hallmarks of Turner's best work of the period;
however, this watercolour may have been the combined effort of Turner and another artist. The three main figures are more beautifully and elegantly drawn than those Turner usually produced, the area of watercolour immediately surrounding them shows signs of having been filled in later, and the figure of the gardener is clearly surrounded by a pencil sketch of a
much larger, clumsier figure. In the V&A a version a single figure of gardener stand in this position, looking out at the viewer.
The following entry appeared on the Explore section of the BM website until 2015:
Even before he had entered the Royal Academy schools at the age of 14, Turner had worked as an architectural draughtsman. This training is evident in his fascination with the details of the famous ruins of this twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey in Monmouthshire, which he visited in 1792, and again in 1793. Tourists of the time were as much impressed by the way that nature had reclaimed the monument as by the scale and grandeur of the buildings. Turner's blue-green washes over the abbey's far wall blend stone and leaf together, and on the near arch the spiralling creepers seem to make the wind and light tangible. The figures of the elegant tourist party and the lean gardener may have been added by another artist working in collaboration with Turner, a common method of production at the time. From 1795 to 1798 Turner was employed by Dr Monro in the evenings to paint washes over copies of watercolours by J.R. Cozens, for which Thomas Girtin drew the outlines.
This may be the watercolour of Tintern Abbey that Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1795, but some doubt remains - another watercolour of the same subject is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1887, RA, no. 26
1913, Apr-May, London, Agnew's, J.M.W.Turner RA, no. 81
1951, Feb-Mar, London, Agnew's, J.M.W.Turner RA, no.8
1951-2, Dec-Mar, London RA, The first hundred years of the RA, no. 513
1959, Feb, BM, 'The R.W.Lloyd Bequest', no cat.
1966 Feb, BM, 'Turner watercolours from the Lloyd Bequest', no.1
1969 Feb, BM, 'Turner watercolours from the Lloyd Bequest', no.1
1998 May-Sept., BM, J.M.W.Turner: Lloyd Bequest, no.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- UNDER THE TERMS OF THE BEQUEST, NONE OF THE PRINTS OR DRAWINGS BEQUEATHED BY R. W. LLOYD MAY BE LENT OUTSIDE THE BRITISH MUSEUM (Registration Numbers 1958,0712.318 to 3149).
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number