Joseph Mallord William Turner

Little Devil’s Bridge

c.1806–7

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 184 x 260 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08123
Turner Bequest CXVI V

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘LITTLE DEVILS BRIDGE over the RUSS above ALTDORFT SWISSD.’, published Charles Turner, 29 March 1809
Turner had visited the Swiss Alpine site on his first Continental tour in 1802; the bridge over the Reuss, south of Altdorf near Wassen (towards the St Gotthard Pass), is also known as the Pfaffensprung (Priest’s Leap). Rawlinson noted it had ‘been for many years unused. A new one has been substituted higher up’1 and the area has since been exploited for hydroelectric works.2 There are two pencil drawings of the bridge in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04732, D04733; Turner Bequest LXXVI 72, 73). The first is a vertical sketch with its lower half given over to the rocky chasm, of necessity only implied in the horizontal Liber design; for the second, the page was used in ‘landscape’ format, and the drawing is closer to the final composition. The ledge and trees (though not the skeleton) in the foreground of the design appear to derive from a sketch from further away and below, in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate D04628; Turner Bequest LXXV 36), while watercolour studies in the latter book include similar combinations of battered trees and rocks (for example Tate D04607, D04610, D04627; Turner Bequest LXXV 15, 18, 35).
The present work is one of several Liber designs based on sketches in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (see also Tate D08153, D08161, D08164; Turner Bequest CXVII Y, CXVIII J, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G; and Tate N03631; in addition, Mer de Glace3 may have been etched directly from another page in the book). Mt St Gothard (Tate D08113; Turner Bequest CXVI L) and Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard (Tate N03631), which was engraved but not published, show nearby sites, and the three compositions appear successively in Turner’s MS list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (see below) suggesting that Turner considered them thematically linked.
In comparing the drawing with the print, Finberg observed:
1
Rawlinson 1878, p.45.
2
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, p.135 (Liber engraving reproduced); see also Forrester 1996, p.67.
3
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
4
Finberg 1910, p.80.
5
Forrester 1996, p.67 and note 3, citing transcription of Turner’s notes in Luke Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1990, p.47.
6
Brooke 1885, p.67.
7
Finley 1979, pp.164–5; see also Andrew Wilton, Turner and the Sublime, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1980, p.122.
8
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
9
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
10
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
11
Rawlinson 1878, pp.40–9; 1906, pp.49–58; Finberg 1924, pp.65–84.
12
Finberg 1909, I, p.318.
13
Tate Archive TG 92/9/2, p.1.
14
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.76.
15
Hardie 1938, pp.44–5 no.2, reproduced p.[81] pl.I A.
16
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.69, reproduced.
17
[John Ward] ed., Frederick Wedmore, Frank Short and others, The South Kensington Drawing-Book. A Selection from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. for Artists, Art Students, and Amateurs. A Drawing-Book Suggested by the Writings of Mr. Ruskin..., London [1890], frontispiece.
1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry

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