Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 58: Perspective Construction of Pulteney Bridge, Bath (after Thomas Malton Junior)


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Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 674 x 1006 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 113

Display caption

Diagram 58 illustrates the ‘measure point’ method for drawing a perspective representation of a building. Turner first marked off the measurements of Pulteney Bridge, in Bath, on the horizontal lines across the top of the sheet. Then he constructed a plan in perspective in the upper part of the picture. Below this he completed the finished outline of the building.

Gallery label, September 2004

Technique and condition

This image on white wove paper with a Whatman watermark and countermark of 1808 was largely created with graphite pencil ruling, with some freehand drawing for small curved elements. A grey/black ruled wash has been used for the buildings. Other lines were drawn lightly in pencil and then had a red wash added.
Many of the ruled lines have been incised lightly with a sharp point, probably an engraving tool. This means that this image was used as the original for a copying process which Turner used to generate a limited number of copies from other lecture diagrams. He needed several copies so that he could if he chose illustrate the drawing of a single element such as a column alone, then later with perspectival lines going to a single point, or built up to a colonnade of identical columns, or used to illustrate the way to make a column look three-dimensional by shading, He could also use such a colonnade to form an entire elevation of the building. The process seems to have involved placing a blank sheet on a table, overlaying double-sided copying paper, followed by another blank sheet, another sheet of double-sided copying paper, and the image to be copied. Then he pressed down hard on each ruled line of the top copy with a sharp tool run against a ruler, and unpacked the paper stack to reveal one good and one pale copy, with little smudging on the ‘good’ side. If necessary, he strengthened straight lines in the copies, which would both be identical and not reversed, and then he hand-applied the curved elements freehand as necessary and/or painted the lines to make them bold enough to demonstrate to a large audience in a room lit artificially.
Recipes exist for home-made copying paper, and evidence from three groups of the lecture diagrams – smudges of black material, occasional smears and the incised lines – suggests that a mixture of egg yolk or whole egg with cheap lamp black was involved. Thin paper dipped in such a watery solution, left to dry, and used once, would have worked. The copying papers were not used repeatedly, since all the copied lines are crisp and even, therefore clearly made from virgin copying paper that was so cheap it could be discarded after one use. This process could have been done at home, and repeated on a top copy if more copies were required. There is precedent for using eggs too: a fair proportion of the primed canvases Turner used while his father was alive and assisting him in the studio carry a priming made from lead white and whole eggs. Possibly Turner’s father assisted with the copying as well.

Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Catalogue entry

Pulteney Bridge, Bath, was designed by Robert Adam and completed in 1773.
In Lecture 4 as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, having examined procedures for depicting the various architectural orders, Turner claimed that ‘it will require only to apply these parts to each to constitute a building, for the general forms will always be comprized in one or more of the foregoing rules’.1 He presented two diagrams (see also the coloured Diagram 59, Tate D17084; Turner Bequest CXCV 114) illustrating Pulteney Bridge whose ‘principle forms consists in cubes and [are] supposed to be viewed near the right angle’.2 He emphasised that the structure was ‘not selected for the beauty of its architecture, but from its possessing the principles of the square and circle and having columns and entablature in projecting colonnade’.
According to Maurice Davies, Turner used a measure point method that ‘makes use of measurements of the object to be depicted, rather than its plan’.3 The method is common to most eighteenth-century perspective treatises, but Turner attributes it to his one-time teacher of perspective, the younger Thomas Malton (1748–1804) who is not known to have published on the subject. The drawing is based on Malton’s own aquatint of ‘Pulteney Bridge from the Road’. Indications of transfer process on the verso suggest that Turner traced the drawing to make the guiding lines of Diagram 59. See Tate D17081; Turner Bequest CXCV 111 for a small perspective study of the same bridge; for tracings, see also Tate D17082; Turner Bequest CXCV 112 and Tate D40007.
Despite Turner’s stated indifference to architectural beauty in this instance, his attention might have been drawn to Adam by his friend John Soane, the Academy’s Professor of Architecture, who had first encountered Adam as a young man and greatly admired his work; in 1833, Soane was to acquire most of the drawings from the estate of Robert and James Adam (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London).4
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 19 verso.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 20 verso.
Davies 1994, p.128.
A.A. Tait, The Adam Brothers in Rome: Drawings from the Grand Tour, London 2008, p.11.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower states that the sheet is Double Elephant size Whatman paper made by William Balston, at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent. The largest group within the perspective drawings, this batch of paper shows a ‘grid-like series of shadows that can be seen within the sheet in transmitted light. This appears to have been caused by a trial method of supporting the woven wire mould cover on the mould’. Because this is the only batch he has seen with such a feature, Bower believes that ‘it may have been tried on one pair of moulds and for some reason never tried again’. He also writes that it is ‘not the best Whatman paper by any means; the weight of this group is also very variable and the moulds have not been kept clean during use’.1
Notes in Tate catalogue files.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2010

Read full Catalogue entry