Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Bridge in a Mountain Pass


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper laid on paper
Support: 231 x 371 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXV 48

Catalogue entry

This work has traditionally been categorised as an unengraved design for the Liber Studiorum, and is probably a variation on the motif of an Alpine bridge spanning a gorge, explored by Turner in two other Liber compositions: Little Devils Bridge and Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard (for drawings see Tate D08123; Turner Bequest CXVI V, and Tate N03631). Unlike these, based on studies made during his first Continental tour in 1802, the present drawing does not appear to show a recognisable site and may have been a free variation to explore the possibilities of light and shade in such a situation, which could be dramatically expressed through the tonal variations inherent in the mezzotint process.
There are affinities with the diagonal fall of light and bright distances of the Little Devil’s Bridge, and with the sense of height and depth in the Mill near the Grand Chartreuse, the drawing for which (Tate D08156; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B) was originally a leaf in the Studies for Liber sketchbook, from which the present sheet also came. In the absence of specific evidence, the span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication, 1807–19, is suggested here as a date range (as it is for various other unpublished designs).
This is one of five unfinished compositions which were grouped at the end of the 1911 Miniature Edition of reproductions of the Liber, as suggestions (probably by W.G. Rawlinson, who gave ‘generous help and advice all through’1) for a ‘no.101??’ to bring the series up to the frontispiece plus a full twenty parts, each comprising five engravings. The others are Tate D08185–D08187 and D40045 (Turner Bequest CXVIII e, f, g, h).
Miniature Edition, 1911, p.[3].
Technical notes:
The sheet is from a batch watermarked ‘J Whatman | 1807’.1 The composition was laid in with rapid brown washes. The bridge and the form to its left – possibly a cottage, included to give a sense of scale – were then washed out. The form in sunlight above the other end of the bridge might almost be read as an animal, but the treatment is so summary that it may just be a fortuitous effect. The sheet is somewhat faded at its centre owing to prolonged display in the nineteenth century. There are finger- or palm-prints towards the lower right where an area of wash has been lifted.
Notes by Peter Bower, Tate conservation files.
Finberg 1909, I, pp.314–15, CXV.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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