Thanks to significant grant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Art Fund, the Athelstan Museum has been able to purchase a fine watercolour of Malmesbury Abbey by Joseph Mallord William Turner.
The artist simply known the world over as ‘Turner’ needs no introduction. He is widely regarded as one of the most talented artists this country has produced. His connection to Malmesbury is not so widely known but in fact he visited the town three times, first in 1791 aged just 16, and made several sketches of the Abbey and its setting above the Avon.
Developed from Turner’s early sketches and painted in about 1827, our watercolour is one of the 96 which make up Turner’s set of ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales‘ (1825-38). These views have long been celebrated as the finest of Turner’s topographical projects and noted examples of the picturesque movement. The England and Wales series embraced a diverse range of subjects from contemporary to more nostalgic subjects, recorded many years earlier. This view of Malmesbury Abbey falls into this latter category, representing a setting Turner had known since his adolescence, but enriched, when painted, with over thirty years’ experience. It is believed that this is the only finished watercolour of this aspect of Malmesbury Abbey.
This picture enhances the museum’s existing collection of Malmesbury related art; including works by Thomas Hearne who influenced Turner himself. A rotating exhibition will accompany the Turner watercolour in the Athelstan Museum’s mezzanine gallery. Critically this acquisition also offers opportunities for us to run programmes and events aimed at celebrating; and engaging more people with; the town’s rich heritage and culture.
The Museum has published a monograph to mark the acquisition of the painting; written by distinguished Turner historian Ian Warrell and lavishly illustrated with some of Turner’s early Malmesbury sketches and relevant works by other artists. This is available to purchase in the Museum shop and on online. See our Shop page…
The museum was honoured that HRH the Prince of Wales, patron of the Turner Society, recorded an introduction for our series of talks about Turner. You can watch this here.
Here you can listen to an interview with museum volunteer Sue Poolman, telling the story of the Turner and its acquisition by the museum.
There was a virtual opening of the Turner display. To view a short film of the opening use the controls at the bottom of the image to the left.
Pencil drawing by Tom Girtin of Malmesbury Market Cross.
This is a pencil drawing by Tom Girtin of Malmesbury Market Cross. It is drawn from Gloucester Street looking eastwards and shows as well as the Market Cross the projecting fronts of the houses on the south side of Gloucester Street. Girtin visited Malmesbury twice, in 1791 and 1797.
The drawing was purchased by FOAM in 1982 with the assistance of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Beecroft Bequest and North Wiltshire District Council and Malmesbury Town Council.
Market Day at Malmesbury Market Cross by Thomas Rowlandson
In 2021 the museum acquired a pen, ink and watercolour drawing of market day at the Market Cross, by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827). This work probably dates from 1805-1815.
This is a typically crowded and busy scene from the popular Georgian artist and caricaturist, contemporary of James Gillray and, like him, noted for his political satire and social observation.
Rowlandson worked extensively in the West Country where he made annual tours.
The museum’s drawing is probably a result of Rowlandson common practice of making several copies of the same composition. This enabled him to meet the demand for his work which was very popular during his lifetime. A more ‘finished’ and less faded version of this same image is known.
Although our drawing is small (15.4 x 23.5 cms) it is packed with character and incident and repays close examination!
“In Living Memory Exhibition” July 2023
The “In Living Memory” Exhibition was an element of the Pride of Place Festival 2023 carried out as a joint venture with Caerbladon. It showed how artists have represented Malmesbury from the 1940s to the present day. It enabled the museum to display some of its art work which is rarely on display.
A selection of the work displayed is shown on the “In Living Memory” page.