Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Bridge of Meulan


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 142 × 193 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 116

Display caption

There has been some uncertainty about the identity of the place depicted in this view, not least because Turner was himself confused about its name. On the back of the sheet he recorded it as 'Medan', but this was corrected to the present title when the image was engraved. It is an unusual presentation of Meulan, taken from the opposite side of the river to the town itself, so that for the most part its buildings are screened by the island in the middle of the Seine. In comparison with the apparently effortless means of steam transport on the lower part of the Seine, Turner here reveals the exertions of man and beast in more traditional means of moving produce upstream.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

By John Cousen in 1834, published in 1835.
In this watercolour, Turner depicts the multi-arched bridge spanning the River Seine at the town of Meulan in northern France. In the right corner, a row of men and beasts, depicted in shadow, curve away into the distance with the line of the riverbank in their exertions to tug the boat behind them. In contrast, other figures, such as the woman and girls, depicted in the light in the right foreground, sit or stand, occupied in more relaxed activities. The light-coloured figure on a horse in the left foreground, supervising the towing, also stands out in contrast against the dark-coloured boats ahead of him.
This watercolour is fairly rough; Turner indicates the building on the bridge at right, hills in the background and in particular the trees at the end of the bridge at far left with few, coarse strokes. He does not even include the tow rope of the boat being hauled but John Cousen provides such details, in the engraving he made of this watercolour in 1834, as Bridge of Meulan (Tate impressions T04713, T05615 and T06251), for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 1835.1 A small dark dog has also been added in the engraving, at bottom left.
There has been some uncertainty about the location of the view depicted, as Turner inscribed the back of the watercolour ‘Medun’ (D40123) but this was corrected to ‘The Bridge at Meulan’ when the image was engraved. Art historian Ian Warrell suggests the watercolour is based on pencil sketches (for example the lower sketch at Tate D24282; Turner Bequest CCLVII 59a) in Turner’s Paris and Environs sketchbook from 1832, which could be of Meulan rather than of ‘Melun’ as noted.2

Caroline South
November 2017

Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1835, opposite p.120.
Warrell 1999, p.276.

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