Joseph Mallord William Turner

Barnstaple Bridge at Sunset

c.1814

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 215 x 339 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25443
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 320

Catalogue entry

Until Eric Shanes identified the subject of this colour study in 1997, it went by the long-standing title ‘Lake of Constance’,1 presumably on account of its very slight resemblance to the scene in the 1842 watercolour Constance (York Art Gallery),2 showing the German city of Konstanz overlooking the Bodensee lake, along the Rhine on the German-Swiss-Austrian border; see also Tate D36142 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 288).
In fact, the scene is closer to home, focusing on the sixteen-arched bridge over the River Taw at Barnstable in North Devon. Turner had drawn it in the Devon Rivers, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D09550; Turner Bequest CXXXII 66),3 now dated to 1814, looking downstream to the north-west with the spire of the Church of St Peter and St Paul beyond; see also Tate D09549, D09551–D09555 (Turner Bequest CXXXII 65, 67–70a), the last of which shows a boat under construction, as incorporated on the right here.
Teignmouth, Devonshire, a watercolour of about 1813 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),4 engraved for the Southern Coast in 1815 (Tate impressions: T04380, T05376–T05384, T05968), is another estuary scene, with a low dawn sun and a boatyard on the right. While the present work shows a summer sunset, the compositions are rather similar, which may have stopped Turner developing the design for the same project5 (see the Introduction to this section). The glowing colour and waterside setting evokes Turner’s classical seaport paintings in the manner of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), whom he greatly admired and often emulated.6 Compare for example The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited in 1817 (Tate N00499),7 or Tate D25380 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 257) in the present section.
1
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.641; Finberg 1909, II, p.839.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.484 no.1531, reproduced.
3
See Shanes 1997, pp.58–9
4
Wilton 1979, p.351 no.452, reproduced.
5
See Shanes 1997, p.59; see also p.28.
6
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
7
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
Technical notes:
The sun was initially reserved, as was its reflection. Bands of cloud either side of it were lifted out of the red washes while wet. The sheet is somewhat yellowed overall from prolonged early display, fortuitously adding to the warm sunset effect.
Verso:
Blank; some adventitious specks of ochre watercolour; dark offsetting from a straight edge.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

Read full Catalogue entry

Explore