Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ivy Bridge, Devonshire


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 280 × 408 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCVIII X

Display caption

Turner had visited Ivy Bridge, near Plymouth, in 1811. He returned two years later, when he made the sketches that were used as the basis for this watercolour. He was visiting Devon because he had been commissioned to take views for a series of prints called Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England.

This study seems remarkably naturalistic. However, a poem Turner wrote about his journey made it clear that for him the scenery evoked patriotic reflections on morality and history.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Engraving by J.C. Allen, ‘Ivy Bridge, Devonshire’, published W.B. Cooke, London, 4 June 1821
The narrow medieval Ivy Bridge still carries Blachford Road across the River Erme in the centre of Ivybridge, a few miles east of Plymouth in Devon. It can be seen upstream to the north from the footpath beside Harford Road, just above the eastern bank. There is a later bridge carrying Fore Street a little way to the south.
Referring to page ‘153’ of the 1811 Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook as a source for the watercolour, Eric Shanes1 presumably intended the more extensive drawing on the verso (Tate D08655; Turner Bequest CXXIII 153a) rather than the unfinished version on the recto (D08654; CXXIII 153). Diane Perkins was tentative in identifying this verso sketch,2 but it seems likely that it does show the Ivy Bridge, as Turner would have crossed it on his 1811 route westwards through Devon between Totnes and Plymouth. As John Ruskin first recognised,3 the more direct source is a relatively broad drawing in the Devon Rivers, No.2 sketchbook (Tate D09722; Turner Bequest CXXXIII 45), which shows the bridge in its wider setting. The sketchbook was apparently used in 1814, although it has traditionally been associated with Turner’s 1813 visit to Devon, hence the earlier dating of the present work in some previous sources.
Elaborations in the finished version here include the ducks in the foreground, a washing tub on the right and a coach preparing to leave in the left distance; the figure waving to the coach from the bridge appears to have an indistinct forerunner at that point in the pencil sketch. The composition was engraved by 1816 for W.B. Cooke’s troubled Rivers of Devon project, which was abandoned after a few plates (see the concordance in the Introduction to the present section);4 this design was not actually published until 18215 (Tate impression: T06011).
In a letter written to his father from Venice on 23 January 1852, shortly after Turner’s death, Ruskin (a significant collector as well as the artist’s critical champion) had included this work as number ‘11’ in a list of ten watercolours and one group of sketches of ‘Class 2nd’, defined as ‘Those which I would give anything in reason for’, should it become available from the artist’s estate.6 In the event, following the acceptance by the nation of the Turner Bequest in 1856, the watercolour was one of the first to be exhibited, selected by a National Gallery committee to be shown at Marlborough House in January 1857 as the only named subject in a group numbered 45–9;7 it was renumbered 556 when shown in ongoing Bequest displays for much of the later nineteenth century.8
Shanes 1981, p.152, and 1990, pp.37, 283 note 14; see also Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102.
Perkins 1990, p.43.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.277; see also Finberg 1909, I, p.378; Wilton 1979, p.350; Spender and Fry 1980, p.102; Shanes 1981, p.152, and 1990, pp.37, 283 note 14; Perkins 1990, p.26, albeit as ‘CXXXII 45’; and Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102.
See also Rawlinson I 1908, pp.xci, 74–6 nos.137–140.
See ibid., p.76.
Letter transcribed in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.xlviii–ix.
Warrell 1995, p.148.
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.635.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in ibid., p.269 no.74.
‘Catalogue of the Drawings and Sketches by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. at Present Exhibited in the National Gallery’ in ibid., p.366.
‘The Hercules of Camarina’ (an ‘Address to the Students of the Art School of South Lambeth, March 15th, 1869’) incorporated in ‘Lecture III: Athena Ergane (Athena in the Heart)’ of ‘The Queen of the Air: Being a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm’ (1869) in Cook and Wedderburn 1905, pp.411–12.
See Sam Smiles, Light into Colour: Turner in the South West, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2006, pp.12–13.
Piggott 2006, p.7; for similar comments see also Tyrrell-Gill 1904, p.62; Hardie 1967, p.32; Shanes 1981 p.21; Shanes 1990, p.37; Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102; and Brown 2002, p.88.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.86–7 no.122, pl.128.
Loukes in Warrell 2007, p.83.

Matthew Imms
July 2014

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