Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Avon Gorge near Bristol: St Vincent’s Rocks from Nightingale Valley


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 88 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXV 6

Catalogue entry

The ‘castle’ noted by Finberg is the old windmill at Clifton, refurbished in the 1820s as an observatory and camera obscura by the Bristol School artist William West,1 seen to the east above the Avon Gorge from Nightingale Valley in Leigh Woods. Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge now springs from the point on the skyline below the small spot of foxing described in the Technical notes below, and the skyline is wooded, but the distinctive diagonal strata of the cliff are still recognisable from the opposite bank and from the bridge itself.
Two watercolours of about 1819 by Francis Danby also show St Vincent’s Rocks from Nightingale Valley (private collection and Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery respectively).2 The first, with a steep, open slope on the right and its screen of trees, may be from almost exactly Turner’s viewpoint, while the second seems to be from further back and higher up the valley.
The trees and distant cliff continue a little way onto folio 5 verso opposite (D09897). This is one of five Bristol sketches between folio 3 verso (D09894, under which earlier views are discussed) and folio 8 recto (D09902).
‘The Observatory,’ Bristol Link, accessed 9 August 2011,
Francis Greenacre, Francis Danby 1793–1861, exhibition catalogue, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery 1988, p.131 no.73, reproduced, and pp.131–2 no.74, reproduced respectively; for the latter see also Eric Adams, Francis Danby: Varieties of Poetic Landscape, New Haven and London 1973, p.186 under no.92.
Technical notes:
There is a small, ringed spot of foxing at the top right, showing through from the verso (D09899).

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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