Joseph Mallord William Turner

Bridge and Cows


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 185 x 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI A

Display caption

Both this and the work exhibited to the   left were executed as part of Turner’s Liber Studiorum project: a series of landscapes in six categories to be engraved and published. The majority of the engravings were after watercolours on a pastoral theme, of which this is an example.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, published J.M.W. Turner, ?11 June 1807
In this composition, the first to be published in the ‘Pastoral’ category of the Liber Studiorum, Turner’s debt to the landscapes of Thomas Gainsborough has been discussed by John Gage1 and Gillian Forrester; Turner’s friend W.F. Wells – said to have had a key role in the origins of the Liber in 1806 (see general Liber introduction) – had collaborated with John Laporte between 1802 and 1805 in publishing a series of soft-ground etchings after Gainsborough which Turner would presumably have known.2 These followed the technique of Gainsborough’s own prints such as The Watering Place of about 1776–7 (Tate N02210, T01435),3 which has compositional and stylistic affinities with Turner’s design.
As has been noted,4 Turner’s painting Cows in a Landscape with a Footbridge, of about 1805–7 (Tate N04657),5 is similar in its general composition to the present design, and related in style to the Thames oil sketches of about 1805;6 the most obvious differences are the figures at the top and bottom of the bank on the right of the drawing, in place of some of the cattle. By 1878, W.G. Rawlinson understood that ‘an earlier sketch, apparently direct from nature, is in the possession of Mr. Strutt, of Belper’,7 but the work is otherwise unrecorded.
In Modern Painters, John Ruskin discussed the composition as one of those ‘simplest subjects’ where a ‘feeling of decay and humiliation gives solemnity’8 and dolefully described ‘the pastoral by the brook side, with its neglected stream and haggard trees. And bridge with the broken rail, and decrepit children – fever-struck – one sitting stupidly by the stagnant stream, the other in rags, and with an old man’s hat on, and lame, leaning on a stick.’9 Finberg also found the drawing ‘feeble’, with its ‘objects ... sadly lacking in intention. ... They seem, indeed, to be mildly wondering why they are there at all. In a word, it is just the sort of drawing which an artist would make when external circumstances induced him to sit down and “do something,” while no strongly felt subject-matter within him was urgently demanding expression.’10 However, he used it as an example of the transformative power of Turner’s etched line in the subsequent print:
John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, pp.115–16.
Forrester 1996, pp.47–8 and note 6.
Impressions reproduced: Gage 1987, p.116, pl.166; Forrester 1996, p.48 no.2iii.
P.J. and Clark 1952, p.14.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.124 no.196, pl.196.
Ibid., pp.115–23 nos.160–194.
Rawlinson 1878, p.9; not recorded in 1906 edition.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.432.
Ibid., p.433.
Finberg 1910, pp.73–4.
Ibid., pp.74–5.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.[17] no.2.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xxxii; Forrester 1996, p.12.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.9–19; 1906, pp.12–23; Finberg 1924, pp.5–24.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.[231]; Finberg 1924, p.8.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry