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The Priory in Art

Joseph Mallord William Turner "Bolton Abbey" 1809
Joseph Mallord William Turner “Bolton Abbey” 1809

The Priory’s picturesque and historic location have made it an ideal subject for artists, most notably Turner and Landseer.

Joseph Mallord William Turner "Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire" c.1809
Joseph Mallord William Turner “Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire” c.1809

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”.

Joseph Mallord William Turner "Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, on the Wharfe" c.1798
Joseph Mallord William Turner “Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, on the Wharfe” c.1798

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.

Joseph Mallord William Turner "Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire" c.1825
Joseph Mallord William Turner “Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire” c.1825

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.

Edwin Henry Landseer "Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire" c. 1830-1835
Edwin Henry Landseer “Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire” c. 1830-1835

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…

(After) Edwin Henry Landseer "Bolton Abbey in Olden Times"
(After) Edwin Henry Landseer “Bolton Abbey in Olden Times”

[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.]

The Tate Gallery website (here) contains many more examples of Bolton Priory in art.


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