Joseph Mallord William Turner

London: Waterloo Bridge, with Somerset House and St Paul’s Cathedral in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 177 × 256 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXX 5

Catalogue entry

Folios 6–10 (D13820–D13824; CLXX 5–9) have been linked by Andrew Wilton to two sketches in the Tabley Sketchbook, No.3 (Tate D07094, D07106; Turner Bequest CV 72, 78), the latter of which was identified by Finberg as depicting Waterloo Bridge in London.1 The bridge is identifiable in the current study by its proximity to Somerset House which lies behind it to the left, and St Paul’s Cathedral beyond it to the right. Its characteristic double Doric columns between each arch are seen clearly in folio 7. As Finberg noted in the introduction to the Tabley book, the sketches on the Thames ‘are probably about 1820.’2 Its recent opening (1817) may have been what inspired Turner to make these studies. He may also have been collecting subjects for an unrealised illustrated publication on London proposed by W.B. Cooke in the early 1820s.3
The five sketches, along with three studies near London Bridge in this sketchbook were executed in pencil and brown (or sepia) watercolour, and were probably made en plain air in front of the motif (folios 11, 12 and 43; D13826, D13827, D13858; CLXX 10, 11, 42; see also folios 13 and 14; D13828, D13829; CLXX 12, 13). This may explain why Turner used only one colour (the blue in folio 43 may have been added later), but another reason may be linked to the technique that Turner employed for designs for the Liber Studiorum and so-called Little Liber. Ian Warrell has linked monochrome studies in the Old London Bridge sketchbook (Tate D17834–D17912; D40961–D40965 complete sketchbook; Turner Bequest Finberg CCV) to Turner’s experiments with the technique of conveying a coloured effect in black and white and his ‘preoccupations behind the series of mezzotints known as the ‘Little Liber’.4 Turner also used brown washes in the Hesperides (1) sketchbook (Tate D05766–D05842; D05844; D40632; D40634–D40636 complete sketchbook; Turner Bequest XCIII), which contains related subjects to the Scotland and London book.
The current sketch was roughly planned out in pencil and then draw in more detail in brown watercolour wash. Turner did not follow his pencil lines exactly, moving the bridge arches slightly to the right. The bend of the river just beyond the bridge means that St Paul’s appears well to the right. It is seen through one of the arches of the bridge on folio 8 and again on folio 10.
Turner 1775–1851 1974–5, p.85 under cat.203; Finberg 1909, I, p.493, CLXX 5.
Finberg, I, p.275.
See Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.358; and Ian Warrell, Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, p.41 under cat.30.

Thomas Ardill
August 2009

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