Joseph Mallord William Turner

A River with Bridges in the Foreground and the Distance, Probably in South-West Devon

1813

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 95 x 157 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D09428
Turner Bequest CXXXI 162 a

Catalogue entry

With the page turned horizontally, this drawing is part of a sequence working in from the back cover of the sketchbook, which correlates with accounts of a voyage Turner and others made from Plymouth south-east to Burgh Island, returning by land towards Plymouth. The sequence begins on folio 275 (D09476; Turner Bequest CXXXI 186a), under which the overall trip is discussed, and may extend as far as folio 228 verso (Tate D09382; Turner Bequest CXXXI 139a). This is the first drawing following that of Kingsbridge on folio 252 verso (D09430; Turner Bequest CXXXI 163a) and is perhaps on the River Avon or the River Erme a few miles north-west of the town, but the precise subject awaits identification. There appear to be cattle below the bridge. There is a less detailed version of what seems to be the same view on folio 250 verso opposite (D09426; Turner Bequest CXXXI 161a).
John Ruskin’s description of the subject1 as relating to the setting for Turner’s major painting Crossing the Brook, exhibited in 1815 (Tate N00497),2 is speculation based on loose compositional similarities, with a bridge in a wooded valley. He thought the drawings on folios 84 recto and 118 recto (D09309, D09345) also related to the painting. There are precise studies of the Tamar Valley west of Plymouth which were used for Crossing the Brook in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook (Tate D10271, D10273, D10274; Turner Bequest CXXXVII 46a, 47a, 48), probably also dating from 1813. See also folio 68 recto (D09291).
1
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.566.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.93–4 no.130, pl.123 (colour).
Technical notes:
There is a brown stain running horizontally from the centre to the right, affecting the drawing.
This page is now bound as the recto of the leaf, facing the similar landscape on folio 250 verso (D09426). Finberg’s number ‘162a’ for the present composition implies that it should be on the verso, as is usual with his ‘a’-suffixed numbers. The blue smudge at the bottom left of the sketch (bottom right when the book is held upright) appears to be an offset from one of the blue numbers inscribed by Ruskin at the top right of each recto (again, with the book held upright), and indicates that the page has been flipped and was originally the verso, in sequence with adjacent drawings made on versos at the back of this sketchbook, probably working in from the back cover. The offsetting would presumably have been from the ‘163’ inscribed on folio 252 recto (D09429; CXXXI 163).

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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