Joseph Mallord William Turner

Grenoble Bridge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 345

Display caption

The city of Grenoble is in south-eastern France.

Gallery label, July 2004

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Catalogue entry

Apparently in 1824, Turner made a watercolour Grenoble Bridge (Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland)1 for Charles Holford, in John Ruskin’s words ‘exquisitely realised’2 from a drawing in the Grenoble sketchbook (Tate D04506; Turner Bequest LXXIV 14) of 1802. This shows Grenoble from the River Isère with the Pont de St Laurent, a wooden bridge with stone piers (replaced in 1837 by a suspension bridge, the Passarelle St Laurent), the Bastille on the left bank and the Belledonne range of mountains in the distance. In its finished form it became one of Turner’s grandest portraits of European scenery and city life, built around the motif of the bridge with a rigour that has been compared to Nicolas Poussin3 and in a sparkling palette of contrasted blue and gold.
Turner had labelled his 1802 drawing ‘Ville de Grenoble Mt Blanc’, and later added the initial ‘F’ to note a possible commission from Walter Fawkes, for whom he made a group of Swiss and Alpine subjects from his drawings of 1802. However, the subject is not included in the list of works for Fawkes in the Greenwich sketchbook (Tate D06824; Turner Bequest CII 52) and seems to have been assigned to Edward Swinburne as ‘Ed Swinburne 40 Gn Grenoble’ is noted elsewhere in the book (D16721; Turner Bequest CII 1). Again it seems to have been dropped and was only revived for Holford, of whom little is known save that his widow lived in Hampstead.4 At some point meanwhile, Turner had included ‘14 Grenoble’ in a list of French and Swiss subjects written on the back of a random pencil sketch (D08253; Turner Bequest CXX m).
Grenoble Bridge is the only work by Turner that Holford is known to have owned and the date of 1824 comes from a note in a Christie’s sale catalogue when it was sold for the second time, having already left his collection.5 The present work is one of four progressive colour studies for the watercolour, all dating from about the same time; the others are Tate D25491, D25469, D25490; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 368, 346, 367. Two of these, D25469 and D25491 are on the same paper, watermarked 1823, as the Holford watercolour. This one, to all appearances the first to be made, is on paper watermarked 1825; see Technical notes below for a possible explanation of this anomaly.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.345 no.404.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.266.
Andrew Wilton in Maurice Guillaud and others, Turner en France: aquarelles, peintures, dessins, gravures, carnets de croquis / Turner in France: Watercolours, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, Sketchbooks, exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris 1981, p.37.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.266.
Christie’s sale, London, 6 February 1872, lot 626; and previously 24 June 1861, lot 28.
Ruskin on Pictures; Cook 1902, p.248; Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.309.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.366.
Finberg 1909, p.841.

David Blayney Brown
January 2012

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