Although this may be a generic composition, Ian Warrell has noted the possibility that it represents or recalls ‘one of the fast flowing rivers in either Yorkshire or Devon’1 which Turner knew well, respectively from early in his career and many subsequent visits, and from tours in the early 1810s. Eric Shanes has suggested a Welsh subject, comparable with the painting Trout Fishing in the Dee, Corwen Bridge and Cottage, exhibited at Turner’s gallery in 1809 (Taft Museum, Cincinnati),2 and related pencil studies in the 1808 Tabley No.2 sketchbook (Tate D06893, D06914; Turner Bequest CIV 28a, 44a).3
Of these, D06914 is most comparable in its juxtaposition of cows and bridge, although (assuming the similarity is not fortuitous) the present study departs somewhat from the topographical drawing, and it may be that Turner enlarged on the sketch to develop a more generalised composition. The sense of the bridge being fleetingly partly in sunlight and partly in shade is comparable with the seemingly spontaneous effect in a watercolour study of Kew Bridge from the 1805 Thames, from Reading to Walton sketchbook (Tate D05946; Turner Bequest XCV 42). Within the present section, there are also bridges in Tate D25223 and D25493 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 101, 370).
The immediate significance of Turner’s apparent pencil note ‘Gall and Aqua Fortis’, repeated in watercolour as ‘GAF’, is unclear. There is a list of materials required for making etchings in the back of the 1796 Studies near Brighton sketchbook (Tate D40761), including Aqua Fortis (nitric acid); see also the potted notes on Tate D40213, the back of a Royal Academy student drawing of about 1792. ‘Gall’ in this instance may refer to the parasitical growths on oak or other trees traditionally collected to produce iron gall ink,4 and the note may be a memorandum of information the artist had recently heard or read. For instance, there are technical articles mentioning the two materials in the context of dying processes in an encyclopaedia of 18105 and a periodical of 1816.6
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.68 no.92, pl.102 (colour).
See Shanes 1997, pp.94, 103, acknowledging unpublished notes by Ian Warrell.
‘Dying’ in John Wilkes ed., Encyclopædia Londinensis, vol.VI, London 1810, pp.161–5.
‘Specification of the Patent Granted to Samuel John Smith, of Gaythorne, Manchester, in the County of Lancaster, Dyer; for an Improved Method of Staining, Printing, or Dying, on Silk, Woollen, Cotton, Yarn, or Goods Manufactured of Cotton’, The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture, second series, vol.28, no.158, April 1816, pp.259–61; for some examples of Turner’s miscellaneous sources, see Matthew Imms, ‘Not “quite out of his province”? Some New Identifications of Turner’s Working Notes’, Turner Society News, no.116, Autumn 2011, pp.3–6.