Joseph Mallord William Turner

Bridge and Monument


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 183 × 276 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVII C

Display caption

Although traditionally known by the above title, the true subject of this design is open to speculation, particularly when compared to its reproduction in mezzotint (hanging below). Rather than the arch of a bridge, the disc at the right hand of the image could be read as a setting sun reflected on the sea, with the moon behind clouds, a ship's hulk to the left and a coastal monument or lighthouse at the centre.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

(see main catalogue text)
This light-filled but ambiguous composition’s ‘Monument’ has been compared to a lighthouse, like that in the ‘Little Liber’ Shields Lighthouse (Tate D25431; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 308) or a seaside column like the one commemorating Nelson in Turner’s watercolour Yarmouth Sands of about 1825,1 suggesting that the form on the skyline to the left may be a ship’s hull, with the silhouetted ‘Bridge’-like form on the right actually a negative shape defining the bright reflection of the moon, hidden in cloud above alongside the setting sun at the centre, thus combining the two light sources as in the ‘Little Liber’ St Michael’s Mount design (Tate D25434; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 311).2 However, the central disk, partly obscured by a band of dark drifting cloud, is left white but loosely ringed in pencil against a white and pale blue sky, and itself suggests the moon; there appears to be no indication of further heavy cloud or a hidden light source on the right. Turner’s design thus remains open to interpretation and speculation. Gillian Forrester has compared the subject and technique to the late, unpublished Liber Studiorum design Moonlight on the Medway (see under Tate D25451; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328) which she dates to about 1824, with this and other ‘Little Liber’ designs.3
Andrew Wilton does not mention the present sheet in relation to the ‘Little Liber’ his catalogue of Turner’s watercolours, but suggests instead a link to another ‘colour beginning’ (Tate D25374; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 252),4 presently called A Stormy Landscape with an Obelisk and a Classical Portico and listed by Finberg as ‘The obelisk. (?design for so-called “Little Liber.”)’, which shares only the fundamentals of a low horizon and a vertical feature, shown in that case pale against billowing, inky clouds.
The current composition, as recognise by Warrell,5 was the one engraved in mezzotint,6 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). Rawlinson does not state whether a plate was found in Turner’s studio after his death, but Dupret states that a ‘corroded steel plate’ was sold in 1873, and some ‘mediocre’ later impressions were taken;7 it is unclear whether it is listed in the 24 March 1873 Christie’s sale of prints from Turner’s studio (see the Introduction). The development of the design through two trial proof stages is described by Rawlinson and Dupret, although the forms are no clearer in the print; Rawlinson mentions a ‘very slight drawing ... in the National Gallery’, perhaps recognising the present watercolour, but Dupret refers only to the ‘tenuous’ link to the Stormy Landscape watercolour.8
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.405–6 no.904, reproduced.
See Warrell 1991, pp.37–8.
See Forrester 1996, pp.21, 152.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.390 no.776, reproduced; see also Andrew Wilton, Turner Watercolors: An Exhibition of Works Loaned by The Trustees of the British Museum, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland Museum of Art 1977, p.39 no.20, reproduced.
See Warrell 1991, p.37.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cxi, and vol.II 1913, pp.211, 389 no.807.
See Marcel-Etienne Dupret, ‘Turner’s Little Liber, Turner Studies, vol.9, no.1, Summer 1989, p.42.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.389; Dupret 1989, p.42.
In Warrell 1991, p.37; noted as apparently anomalous in Forester 1996, p.26 note 140.
Ibid., p.38.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop