Joseph Mallord William Turner

Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 214 × 254 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen 1922

Catalogue entry

C.S. Bale by 1872; sold Christie’s, London, 14 May 1881 (185), £131 5s.
Bought by Agnew
J. Irvine Smith by 1906 and in 1908
George Cathcart, 5th Earl Cathcart by 1921
Sir Joseph Duveen, later Baron Duveen of Millbank by 1922
(see main catalogue entry)
Turner visited the St Gotthard Pass, a major Alpine route between central Switzerland and northern Italy, on his first visit to the Continent in 1802. The present work (engraved for the Liber Studiorum but not published) is one of several Liber designs based on sketches in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (see also Tate D08123, D08153, D08161, D08164; Turner Bequest CXVI V, CXVII Y, CXVIII J, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G; in addition, Mer de Glace1 may have been etched directly from another page in the book). The first of these, the drawing for the published Liber design of the nearby Little Devil’s Bridge (Tate D08123; Turner Bequest CXVI V), may have been developed in parallel; Mt St Gothard shows a third view on the same route (for drawing see Tate D08113; Turner Bequest CXVI L; the second part of the present work’s current title is by analogy with the lettering of the published print after the latter). The three compositions appear successively in Turner’s MS list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (see below), and Turner might have originally intended the two bridges as a pair.
The present design is loosely based on a vertical colour study in the St Gothard book (Tate D04626; Turner Bequest LXXV 34), which was also the source for an upright oil painting of about 1803–4 (private collection).2 The mules and soldiers behind the parapet to the right of the latter also appear here, though less prominently and spread out along the extended right half of the horizontal composition – including one looking down ‘to call attention to the depth of the precipice’.3 The military presence was topical as the bridge, over the Reuss in the Schöllenen Gorge on the route through the St Gotthard Pass near Andermatt, had been destroyed during recent fighting between the French and Russians and reconstructed (it was rebuilt again in the 1830s and survives, superseded by a modern bridge).4 In Modern Painters, Ruskin described the composition as the ‘noblest’ in the Liber,5 and considered the etching (usually attributed to Turner) ‘the grandest piece of rock-drawing, I suppose, in the world.’6
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.112 no.147, pl.154 (colour).
Rawlinson 1878, p.153.
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.137–8.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.437 note; ibid., V 1904, p.296.
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in ibid., XXI 1906, p.225.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Ian Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner: Ruskin’s First Selection from the Turner Bequest, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, p.121.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.480 no.1499, reproduced.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Hardie 1938, pp.58–9 no.23, reproduced p.[95] pl.VIII.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, pp.74–5.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, pp.48, [54].
Forrester 1996, p.142.
Rawlinson 1906, p.179.
Strange 1908, p.58.
Exhibition of the Liber Studiorum by Turner, exhibition catalogue, 1921, p.2.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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