Discovering Turner’s Yorkshire: enriching public understanding and boosting tourism

Academic: Professor D. Hill, Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

Through research into the topographical aspects of Turner’s work, the University of Leeds has raised national and international awareness of the area’s relevance to the artist and helped to boost tourism in Yorkshire.

Leeds has undertaken comprehensive studies on Turner (1775-1851), recognising both the need and the scope for investigation into topographical aspects of his work. Leeds’ published work emphasises the significance of Turner’s Yorkshire paintings, tracking the artist’s travels and using Google Earth’s GPS technology to accurately identify, for the first time in this format, the viewing points and locations depicted by Turner as they survive today.

Leeds contributed its extensive topographical expertise to a £1m Tate Britain project to re-catalogue the Turner Bequest collection of sketches and drawings, one of the largest research projects ever devoted to British art (see www.tate.org.uk).

Re-embedding Turner’s regional connections

The Tate research and the 2008 Leeds book ‘Turner and Leeds’ triggered a Welcome to Yorkshire tourism initiative, with Leeds acting as consultant and collating research material to inform the project. Launched in 2010, ‘Discover Turner’s Yorkshire’ features a Turner Trail, identifying 70 sites depicted by the artist. Each site is marked – usually with locally funded distinctive seats and interpretation boards (based on Leeds’ research) – highlighting new tourist venues and bringing fresh attention to established attractions.

In raising the profile of Turner, there has been considerable success in promoting some of Yorkshire’s hidden heritage gems.

The Yorkshire Tourism Report

The Turner Trail is further supported by a number of initiatives including an accompanying booklet (largely written by Leeds) and a popular website. Built around an interactive map derived from Leeds’ Google Earth material, the website offers a range of innovative, technology-based methods of exploring Turner’s Yorkshire, including podstrolls and geocaches enabling GPS device-holders to take part in treasure-hunt trails.

Contributing to the local and regional economy
In just the first year, an estimated 1.25 million visitors saw the interpretation boards and visitors to Turner Trail locations spent an average £119 per head. A survey of tourism businesses revealed that over half believe that the project has had a positive impact on their business.

Leeds has conducted a series of Turner Masterclasses for heritage tourism professionals and owners of tourism-related businesses, encouraging participants to build on the increasing regional interest in cultural tourism. Leeds’ work has also led to new commercial initiatives, including ‘Turner Tours’ organised by regional tourism companies.

Explore the Turner trails at www.yorkshire.com/turner

Funder: Tate Britain