Finberg incorrectly suggested Dartmouth Castle, Devon, as the subject here. While there are various Dartmouth views elsewhere, as noted in detail under Tate D08366 (Turner Bequest CXXIII 3) in the 1811 Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook, the sequence of five drawings from the present page to folio 8 recto (D09902) in fact show the Avon Gorge and Clifton, north-west of the centre of Bristol, from the western Leigh Woods bank. The scene is now dominated by Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge. These are Turner’s first identified drawings of Bristol since the 1790s, when he recorded the area in the Bristol and Malmesbury sketchbook of 1791 (Tate; Turner Bequest VI) and the Swans sketchbook, in use towards the end of that decade (Tate; Turner Bequest XLII).
Separate watercolours resulting from the earliest visit include an unfinished study of the back of the old Hot Wells spa (Tate D00389; Turner Bequest XXIII O), and two versions of the buildings in their Avon Gorge setting from the south (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and Courtauld Gallery, London).1 The present view is up-river from the north, with the Hot Wells buildings just left of the gutter on folio 4 recto opposite (D09895), where the view continues. Francis Danby’s small oil of The Avon Gorge of about 1820 (private collection) is from a similar viewpoint,2 while The Avon Gorge from Leigh Woods near Bristol, a watercolour by Samuel Jackson (1794–1869) datable to before 1828 (private collection), shows the same features from a higher vantage point on the west bank.3
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, respectively p.302 no.18, pl.8, and ibid. no.19, reproduced.
Francis Greenacre, Francis Danby 1793–1861, exhibition catalogue, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery 1988, p.81 no.6, reproduced; Eric Adams, Francis Danby: Varieties of Poetic Landscape, New Haven and London 1973, p.172 under no.17, as by pupil of Danby.
18th and 19th Century Drawings and Watercolours 2009, exhibition catalogue, Guy Peppiat Fine Arts, London 2009, p.43 no.41, reproduced (colour).