Reprinted from Newsletter 108, dated 2003 August

Earliest pictures of Abbey discovered by art dealer in Cheshire

A painting of some ruins. Two structures stand, which look like the left and right sides of an archway, the top of which is missing. Smaller arches are intact further outwards from centre. The structures continue around a corner, towards the background, but are clearly incomplete. The surroundings are grass and trees, with hills visible in the background.
John Inigo Richards’ detailed ink-and-watercolour works from about 1765 are the earliest original depictions of the Abbey ruins. This is a view to the east.
A similar painting of the same ruins, but seen from the other side. Some broken walls are visible in the foreground, running across the painting. Much of the left wall running towards the background is present, with many arches. Plants grow from it. This connects to the remaining parts of the large arch, which is towards the background. Further in the background two identical thin structures are seen rising out of what look to be trees. In the background on the left of the painting, a distinctive conical roof is seen emerging from trees, which towards the top becomes a vertical cylindrical section, then topped with a steep cone.
View to the west.

Two previously unknown watercolours of the Abbey recently turned up for sale at the Sadler Street Gallery in Wells. One of the gallery partners, Paul Watson, had found them in Cheshire during a buying trip and recognized the work of John Inigo Richards (1731–1810).

They were immediately spotted in Wells by Dr Warwick Rodwell, an archaeologist and one of the Abbey trustees. The Abbey was able to buy them, for £1,950.

The pictures, dating from about 1765, are detailed pen-and-ink drawings that were then watercoloured over. Dr Rodwell believes they are the earliest surviving original representations of the Abbey (as opposed to prints).

“They are drawn with great attention to architectural detail — they are not sketchy representations — and are early examples of this form of building treatment by artists. Richards was a watercolour artist of the first rank, being a founder member and secretary of the Royal Academy.”

The Abbey has not yet decided where to display the paintings, which are about the size of an A4 sheet (without the frames). They must be protected from light and humidity.

The custodian, Matthew Clements, and his staff are preparing a conservation plan for the Abbey, which involves poring through all the old written descriptions of the ruins. Some as recent as 1790 mention walls being dynamited (see John Cannon’s memoirs, pages 2–3 of this newsletter).

Precinct wall; Attendance recovering

In other Abbey news, English Heritage has upgraded the statutory listing of the precinct wall, in accordance with its architectural importance.

Attendance figures at the Abbey are recovering well after the country’s general tourist setbacks of the past two years. A new policy of leaving the grass long — in the orchard and near the Bere Lane wall — is attracting much interest from visitors as wildlife areas develop. Bluebells, crocuses and daffodils will follow. The trustees are advised in this by (the appropriately named) Charles Flower, a professional wildflower grower who also looks after National Trust and English Heritage sites.