Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Bridge in the Middle Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 185 × 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI P

Catalogue entry

Etching, aquatint and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 10 June 1808
The bridge was probably inspired by the distinctive long, two-humped bridge at Walton-on-Thames in Surrey – then relatively new, but replaced later in the nineteenth century. At about the time of this Liber Studiorum design, Turner painted two topographical views in oils from opposite directions, each known as Walton Bridges; one was possibly exhibited at his gallery in 1806 (private collection),1 and the other may have appeared there in the following year (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).2 In turn, these were based on various sketches dating from Turner’s explorations a few miles up the Thames from his temporary home at Isleworth in 1805, when he viewed the Thames Valley as both a setting for contemporary subjects and as the inspiration for a series of timeless, classical themes.3 Rawlinson refers to ‘an earlier [Liber] sketch’ owned by Mr. Strutt of Belper, Derbyshire in 1878,4 but it is not mentioned in the subsequent literature.
The composition has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.87 (Landscape)5 and, from an 1802 print in Earlom’s secondary 1802–17 series, no.3.6 In Modern Painters, Ruskin was dismissive of the more Claudian compositions in the Liber: ‘The designs ... are founded first on nature, but in many cases modified by forced imitation of Claude, and fond imitation of Titian. All the worst and feeblest studies in the book ... owe the principal part of their imbecilities to Claude’.7 Stopford Brooke felt that Turner’s ‘naturalism intrudes; and that unity of sentiment so necessary in an artificial composition is destroyed. ... The landscape itself is half Italian and half English.’8 However, other commentators have admired the dreamlike effect,9 and the ‘idyllic, idealising mood’ with its ‘hushed, Arcadian atmosphere’.10
Thornbury noted that in the subsequent print a ‘tree in the foreground is remarkable for the fact that it casts three shadows. I suppose the other two stems were taken out in some alterations, and the attendant shadows forgotten. Turner, like other great men, knew how to blunder.’11 Rawlinson blamed the engraver,12 but a similar, inexplicable effect is evident in the drawing. However, the general quality of light in the drawing has been praised as a rare instance of ‘an adequate preliminary [Liber] study’,13 in the sense that it did not require much revision in its translation into the aquatint and mezzotint tones of the subsequent engraving.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.47–8 no.60, pl.70 (colour).
Ibid., p.50 no.63, pl.71 (colour).
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993, particularly p.128; David B[layney] Brown, ‘William Turner: Life and Works’ in Brown, Shimbata and Numata 1997, p.35.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.87; from 1644–5 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–93: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, pp.107–8, reproduced pl.87).
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1819, pl.3; from a drawing then in Richard Payne Knight’s collection.
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.399.
Brooke 1885, p.46.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.128.
Thornbury 1862 [1861], I, p.278.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Herrmann 1990, p.[46]
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.22 no.13.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.30–9; 1906, pp.37–48; Finberg 1924, pp.45–64.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.301 no.511, pl.513 (colour).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop