Joseph Mallord William Turner

Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland, from Upstream


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

Graphite on paper
Support: 116 x 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLVII 4

Catalogue entry

Turner’s viewpoint is west of Sunderland’s cast-iron Wearmouth Bridge, looking downstream in the direction of the harbour; for its construction and history, see the entry for folio 3 recto (D12321), where it is seen from the opposite direction. The distant tower through the arch appears to be that of Holy Trinity Church. Loose, diagonal strokes at the top left and right reinforce the dynamic of the arch, and presumably indicate clouds, either observed or imagined in terms of a possible finished composition. The sketch is continued with a two very slight strokes on folio 3 verso opposite (D12322). Studies of Sunderland run from folio 1 recto to folio 5 recto (D12318, D12325).
Finberg mistakenly identified the bridge’s setting as Newcastle,1 perhaps by loose comparison with Turner’s Rivers of England view of that city, with its industrial foreground but quite different bridge (see Tate D18144; Turner Bequest CCVIII K);2 the correct identification has been made independently of the present author by Juliet Horsley of Tyne & Wear Museums.3
There is evidence of various industries in the foreground. Just to the right of the bridge is the conical chimney of a glass kiln, still visible in an early photograph of the original bridge by a member of the Backhouse family (Tyne & Wear Museums), and identifiable as the Scott and Horn bottle house.4 Turner appears to show a wagon on a track in the foreground. Another photograph, taken after the partial rebuilding of the bridge in the 1850s, shows the staithes or hurries of the extensive Lambton coal drops here (Tyne & Wear Museums). The first waggon-way from the collieries at Newbottle, a few miles to the south, had been constructed in 1815, shortly before Turner’s visit. The staithes were demolished as late as 1973,5 and the bank at this point is now parkland, with a view of the later railway and road bridges crossing the Tyne. There is a similar view from higher up the south bank on folio 5 recto.
Turner observed comparable scenes on other northern tours, drawing the hurries by the harbour at Whitehaven in Cumbria in 1809 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).6 Small coal waggons appear in the background of his 1823 Rivers of England watercolour of Shields, on the River Tyne (Tate D18155; Turner Bequest CCVIII V)7 and the related oil Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Night, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 (National Gallery of Art, Washington).8 His general consciousness of rivers as arenas for commerce and industry is well established.9 Lord Strathmore, whose properties at Hylton near Sunderland and Gibside inland to the west Turner visited at this time, had extensive local coal interests (see the introduction to the tour).
Finberg is followed by Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, pp.103, 284 note 75.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.384–5 no.733, reproduced.
Email correspondence with Ian Warrell, 18 June 2008, Tate catalogue files.
Caption to photograph, Imagine: Tyne & Wear Collections online, accessed 11 August 2009,; see also related photograph from opposite bank, ibid.
See James Hamilton, Turner and the Scientists, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, fig.95 (apparently mis-identified and dated as ‘The Hurries’ – Coal Boats Loading, North Shields 1822).
Wilton 1979, p.384 no.732, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.210–11 no.360, pl.363 (colour).
See for instance Hamilton 1998, pp.92–105.

Matthew Imms
February 2010

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