Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dumbarton Bridge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 101 × 158 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXI 2

Catalogue entry

David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan recognised this sketch as Dumbarton Bridge and the source for part of Turner’s watercolour, Dumbarton Castle and River Leven circa 1833 (whereabouts unknown), prepared to illustrate an edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Prose Works.1 The sketch shows the bridge with shipping and the town of Dumbarton beyond.
The bridge, which spans the River Leven, has five arches, though only three are visible in this sketch; four are depicted in the watercolour and subsequent engraving. The position of the spires also differs in the finished design. Wallace-Hadrill and Carolan suggest that part of Dumbarton Rock can be seen at the left of the sketch, but a broken vertical line and part of what looks like a bridge arch suggests that this is in fact a separate sketch. Perhaps the sketch actually shows the bridge from the south, rather than from the north as in the Scott design. This would explain the differences between the sketch and watercolour. Therefore, rather than copying the sketch, Turner had to re-imagine the bridge to recast it in his Dumbarton design. The artist took one final liberty when doing this: straightening the serpentine bend of the River Leven to bring Dumbarton rock closer to the bridge.
At the left of the page is a third slight sketch, drawn with the sketchbook inverted, which shows a boat with a distant shore (probably of the River Leven or Clyde).
Turner’s depiction of Dumbarton Rock in the Scott design is similar to the sketch on folio 1 verso of this sketchbook (D26620). A sketch made in 1801 during a previous visit to Dumbarton includes the bridge and the rock and is probably a more direct basis for the Scott design than any sketch made in 1831 (Tate D02980; Turner Bequest LVI 35a).

Thomas Ardill
October 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.430 no.1095; David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘Turner Round the Clyde and in Islay – 1831’, 1991, Tate catalogue files, folio 2.

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