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This colour study relates closely to a watercolour dated 1824, known as The Port of London (Victoria and Albert Museum, London),1 which was engraved in 1827 as Old London Bridge and Vicinity (Tate impression: T06070) for W.B. Cooke’s projected ‘Views in London and its environs’ scheme (see the Introduction to this section). The connection was recognised by Ian Warrell and confirmed by Eric Shanes.2
Looking west up the River Thames, on the skyline at the left are the tower of St Olave’s Church and, partly obscured by a sail, the nearby shot tower (both gone), with the pale tower of Southwark Cathedral towards the centre, on the far side of the bridge which is barely articulated here, being represented by a largely undifferentiated ochre band. The darker silhouettes of shipping and figures in the foreground were developed into a busy scene of commerce in the Pool of London in the completed design, lit by bright morning light from the left, as prefigured in the pale blues and golden browns used here. Tate D25291 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 169), albeit also slight, is a variant focusing more on the bridge, shown contre-jour against a low sun.
The Old London Bridge sketchbook, in use around 1824, contains various relevant drawings including one with details of the three towers (Tate D17851; Turner Bequest CCV 9a), with adventitious strokes of pale blue watercolour suggesting Turner was testing his brush on the page while working on the watercolour or the present study.
Blank; inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 92 P | O’ bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘12’ towards centre right, inverted; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII 38’ towards bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 38’ bottom left.