The Priory’s picturesque and historic location have made it an ideal subject for artists, most notably Turner and Landseer.
Turner made a number of visits to Bolton Abbey and produced a series of watercolours of its Priory ruins. In Modern Painters V and VI, Ruskin, the influential 19th century English art critic and social thinker, described the lifelong effect on the youthful Turner of his first encounter with the scene – “For the first time, the silence of nature round him, her freedom sealed to him, her glory opened to him”, such that “for all the latter part of his life, [he] could never even speak [about it] but his voice faltered”.
Turner first visited Bolton Abbey on his visit to Yorkshire in 1797 but had the opportunity only to make a very quick sketch while his coach changed horses at nearby Bolton Bridge. He returned in 1808, making some large pencil sketches and painting two watercolours.
Landseer is best known for his animal paintings, but he did make over a hundred landscape sketches. These seem to have been painted in situ and were purely for his own pleasure. One of these was a depiction of the Bolton Priory ruins.
Landseer also painted the much-reproduced “Bolton Abbey in Olden Times”, which appears to show a former Cellarer, (who was responsible for the community’s catering), standing in the Priory Gatehouse, buying fresh food from local tradesmen. The current Rector does not buy food in these quantities…
[All these figures were painted from life. The Cellarer was a Mr Callcott; the man on his left was the brother of Sir Edwin Landseer; the young man with the heron and bustard slung over his shoulder was Lord Ossulton, later the Earl of Tonkerville; the gamekeeper kneeling was a Russian servant whom the 6th Duke of Devonshire brought back with him after he had represented the British Court at the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas I in 1825. The woman holding the tray of trout was the celebrated Louisa Russell (of the Duke of Bedford’s family) who later became the Duchess of Abercorn and grandmother to Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire.]