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Jonathan Skelton, active 1754, died 1758, British

The Great Gate of St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury

Part Of:

Collective Title: Views of Canterbury and its Evirons

Watercolor with pen and gray ink over graphite on thick, textured, cream laid paper on contemporary mount
Sheet: 8 1/8 × 15 3/16 inches (20.6 × 38.6 cm)

In pen and brown ink, on verso: "The Great Gate of St. Austin's Monastery | J. Skelton 1757."; on a seperate backing sheet, in pen and brown ink: "St. Augustine's Monastery. Canterbury. | J Skelton 1757"; in a different hand, in graphite: "St. Augustines Monastery | Canterbury | J Skelton | 1757 No. 2"

Signed and dated

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
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IIIF Manifest:

Although they seldom had the cachet of imaginary landscapes, most early watercolors were topographical in nature. Jonathan Skelton’s view of the ruins of St. Augustine’s Monastery in Canterbury is typical in both its antiquarian subject and its technique of low-toned washes of color combined with pen. Nevertheless, Skelton’s use of watercolor is highly sophisticated. The dark foreground giving way to a lighter middle ground suggests his study of seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes. Skelton’s watercolors showed an early promise that was never to be fulfilled. In 1758 he left England to study in Italy. This ought to have provided an excellent foundation for his career, but he died suddenly in Rome the following year.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
Jonathan Skelton seems to have belonged to a circle of talented landscape watercolorists including William Taverner (cat. 44) and the foremost landscape painter of mid-century Britain, George Lambert (1700-65). Stylistic links in the work of theses three artists seem persuasive. There is, however, no documentary evidence connecting Taverner with Lambert or Skelton, and the only evidence of a connection between Lambert and Skelton is Skelton's recurring references to a "Mr. Lambert" in his letters from Rome. Apart from these letters, which provide a record of Skelton's life from his arrival in Rome in later 1757 to his premature death there in 1759, we know virtually nothing of his life. Indeed, his work was completely unknown until the rediscovery of eight-four of his drawings in a 1909 sale. In his earliest known watercolors, a series pf views pf Croydon dated 1754, Skelton's technique closely resembles that of Lambert. By 1757, the year of the series of eight views of Canterbury and its environs (four of which are in the Yale Center for British Art), Skelton had refined the style inherited from Lambert into a more expressive and atmospheric instrument. The buildings and foliage are at once more solid and more delicate, and his compositions have gained an offhand grace lacking in his earlier work. Skelton produced his Canterbury views in the manner of the "tinted" drawing standard to topographical draftsmanship of the early eighteenth century. Over a pencil outline he modeled the forms in gray wash, then added washes of color, finally strengthening the outlines with pen. Yet Skelton uses his technique with great subtlety. Because of the richness of his color and the delicate, fluttering character of his pen work, his drawings have none of the hard linear quality that the term "tinted' drawing suggests.

The Great Gate of St. Augustine's Monastery shows the entrance gate built by Abbot Fyndon in 1300, to the abbey founded by St. Augustine in 598. A view of the gate by J.M.W. Turner (cat. 144) is also in the exhibition. The view of Harbledown shows the buildings of the leper's hospital around which the village grew up. In both drawings the emphasis seems less on the topographical detail than on the fall of light and the texture of Brick and tile and old wood. Skelton's concern with light and atmosphere is further demonstrated by an inscription on the old mount (now removed) of the Harbledown drawing, which reads: "Harbledown, A village near Canterbury | J: Skelton 1757 | N:B: Drawn immediately after a heavy Summer-Shower."

Scott Wilcox

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 156 cat. no. 132

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