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Watercolour - Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire
  • Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire
    Cotman, John Sell, born 1782 - died 1842
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Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    North Yorkshire (painted)

  • Date:

    1803 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cotman, John Sell, born 1782 - died 1842 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 120, The Wolfson Galleries, case 10, shelf DR1

Object Type
In the later 18th century, English landscape watercolours were beginning to be appreciated throughout Europe and in the 19th century they were eagerly collected. Painting in watercolours was a skill that many middle-class amateurs took up, often studying under professional drawing masters.

Between 1800 and 1805 Cotman embarked on a number of sketching tours that were to have a dramatic effect on his artistic development. In 1800 and again in 1802 he travelled to Wales in search of the Picturesque, where he saw the castles and wild mountains that were to fire his imagination for the rest of his life. On his second trip Cotman was probably accompanied by Paul Sandby Munn (1773-1845), who was also with him during the early stages of his first trip to Yorkshire in 1803. In 1806 Cotman set up as a drawing master in his native Norwich. There Cotman was able to disseminate his methods of sensitive drawing and innovative watercolour technique, providing his pupils with a large library of paintings and drawings for them to copy.

Subject Depicted
The influence of Yorkshire on Cotman was as significant as it was to Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), both of whom were indefatigable travelling watercolorists in their youth. Yorkshire's ruined abbeys, which include Fountains, Rievaulx, Byland, Whitby, Bolton and Jervaulx, were a frequent source of inspiration for British painters throughout the 19th century.

Physical description

Watercolour entitled 'Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire', depicting an interior view of the ruined abbey with arches and cows. Signed and dated by the artist.

Place of Origin

North Yorkshire (painted)


1803 (made)


Cotman, John Sell, born 1782 - died 1842 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper


Height: 45 cm, Width: 33 cm

Object history note

Painted by John Sell Cotman (born in Norwich, Norfolk, 1782, died in London, 1842) in Brandsby, North Yorkshire

Descriptive line

Watercolour entitled 'Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire' by J. S. Cotman. Great Britain, 1803.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

David Hill Cotman in the North: watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005. 185p. ill (some colour). ISBN 0300114044.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
John Sell Cotman, with his contemporaries Thomas Girtin and J.M.W. Turner, developed watercolour painting into an ambitious medium, suitable even for exhibition at the Royal Academy. All three painters used British landscapes as their chief subject. Here, Cotman used the technique to record the picturesque ruins of a North Yorkshire abbey. [27/03/2003]


Paper; Watercolour



Subjects depicted

Ruins; Abbeys; Cows; Arches




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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