Joseph Mallord William Turner

Barnstaple Bridge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 90 × 152 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXII 66

Display caption

Turner visited Barnstaple in 1813 and sketched its bridge and the wide reaches of the river Taw on several pages in this sketchbook. He developed no.39 from a synthesis of those sketches. As he could not be bothered to draw every arch of the sixteen-arched bridge in the present sketch, he merely recorded twelve of its spans and economically appended the number '16' underneath. To the right of the bridge may be seen the broach-spire of the church of St Peter and St Paul which is still twisted out of shape by the weight of its own lead.

Gallery label, February 1997

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Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has recognised this as a view of Barnstaple Bridge, with its sixteen arches over the River Taw as indicated by Turner’s inscription, which Finberg misidentified as the twenty-four-arched bridge at nearby Bideford.1 At the top right is what appears to be a brief continuation of buildings, boats and trees from the right of the main sketch. Shanes relates the sketch to a watercolour study (Tate D25443; Turner Bequest CCLXIII) with a sixteen-arched bridge juxtaposed with a spire and a boat under construction to the right, apparently taken from the half-page sketch on folio 70 verso (D09555). The drawings in between, on folios 67 recto, 68 recto, 69 recto and 70 recto (D09551–D09554), noted by Finberg as the ‘same bridge’ are therefore also identifiable as of Barnstaple Bridge and its surroundings. The two drawings of a similar bridge on folio 79 recto and verso (D09564, D09565) do indeed, as Finberg suggested, show Bideford, as the latter sketch is annotated ‘24’.2
As noted in this sketchbook’s Introduction, Turner had visited relatives in Barnstaple on his 1811 West Country tour. The views on folios 64 recto and 65 recto (D09548, D09549) are also apparently of the town.
The present page was exhibited in Light into Colour: Turner in the South West at St Ives and Plymouth in 2006.3
Finberg 1909, I, p.374.
Shanes 1997, pp.59, 92 note 2 under no.40; for the watercolour, see p.58 no.39, reproduced (colour).
Sketchbook noted in ‘List of Works’ in Sam Smiles, Light into Colour: Turner in the South West, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2006, p.55, but folio not specified; page reproduced on exhibition microsite, Tate, accessed 10 June 2014,

Matthew Imms
June 2014

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