J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Devil's Bridge, Mt St Gothard c.1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard circa 1806–7
Watercolour on off-white wove paper, 214 x 254 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen 1922
C.S. Bale by 1872; sold Christie’s, London, 14 May 1881 (185), £131 5s.
Bought by Agnew
J. Irvine Smith by 1906 and in 1908
George Cathcart, 5th Earl Cathcart by 1921
Sir Joseph Duveen, later Baron Duveen of Millbank by 1922
(see main catalogue entry)
Turner visited the St Gotthard Pass, a major Alpine route between central Switzerland and northern Italy, on his first visit to the Continent in 1802. The present work (engraved for the Liber Studiorum but not published) is one of several Liber designs based on sketches in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (see also Tate D08123, D08153, D08161, D08164; Turner Bequest CXVI V, CXVII Y, CXVIII J, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G; in addition, Mer de Glace1 may have been etched directly from another page in the book). The first of these, the drawing for the published Liber design of the nearby Little Devil’s Bridge (Tate D08123; Turner Bequest CXVI V), may have been developed in parallel; Mt St Gothard shows a third view on the same route (for drawing see Tate D08113; Turner Bequest CXVI L; the second part of the present work’s current title is by analogy with the lettering of the published print after the latter). The three compositions appear successively in Turner’s MS list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (see below), and Turner might have originally intended the two bridges as a pair.
The present design is loosely based on a vertical colour study in the St Gothard book (Tate D04626; Turner Bequest LXXV 34), which was also the source for an upright oil painting of about 1803–4 (private collection).2 The mules and soldiers behind the parapet to the right of the latter also appear here, though less prominently and spread out along the extended right half of the horizontal composition – including one looking down ‘to call attention to the depth of the precipice’.3 The military presence was topical as the bridge, over the Reuss in the Schöllenen Gorge on the route through the St Gotthard Pass near Andermatt, had been destroyed during recent fighting between the French and Russians and reconstructed (it was rebuilt again in the 1830s and survives, superseded by a modern bridge).4 In Modern Painters, Ruskin described the composition as the ‘noblest’ in the Liber,5 and considered the etching (usually attributed to Turner) ‘the grandest piece of rock-drawing, I suppose, in the world.’6
The composition is recorded, as ‘Gt Devils Bridge’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.7 It is noted again, as ‘Devil Bridge ... Daw’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX).8 The derivation from the 1802 St Gotthard studies is conclusive and the correct identification was made by Rawlinson in 1878, after commentators including Ruskin had referred to the view as showing the Via Mala pass, some forty miles to the east, which Turner may not have visited until 1843 (see for example Tate D36224; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV a 362);9 At about that time he produced a last watercolour sketch of the Devil’s Bridge, seen from the same side but set back in a composition which further emphasises the depth of the ravine (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).10
The etching and mezzotint engraving, with etching attributed to Turner and engraving by Henry Dawe, was among the unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91;11 see also Tate D08170–D08178, D25451; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, CCLXIII 328, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X; and Tate N02782). Tate does not hold any impressions.
In 1896, Frank Short etched and mezzotinted this composition,12 as one of his interpretations of the unpublished Liber plates (Tate T05064;13 see general Liber introduction).
The present work was owned by C.S. Bale by 1872, when he lent to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Liber exhibition,14 and sold at Christie’s, London in 1881, when it was bought by the London dealers, Agnews.15 It was in J. Irvine Smith’s possession by 190616 and still in 1908.17 The Earl Cathcart lent it to the 1921 Tate Liber exhibition18 before it was presented to the gallery by Lord Duveen in the following year.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.112 no.147, pl.154 (colour).
Rawlinson 1878, p.153.
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.137–8.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.437 note; ibid., V 1904, p.296.
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in ibid., XXI 1906, p.225.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Ian Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner: Ruskin’s First Selection from the Turner Bequest, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, p.121.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.480 no.1499, reproduced.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Hardie 1938, pp.58–9 no.23, reproduced p.[95] pl.VIII.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, pp.74–5.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, pp.48, [54].
Forrester 1996, p.142.
Rawlinson 1906, p.179.
Strange 1908, p.58.
Exhibition of the Liber Studiorum by Turner, exhibition catalogue, 1921, p.2.
Technical notes:
The drawing was begun without a preliminary wash or pencil drawing; washes were followed by brushwork, with some wet washes and some dry, and scratching-out on the right. The watercolour is not as medium-rich as some of the other Liber drawings. The overall mid-brown colour results from the presence of a single burnt sienna pigment.1 It is of a squarer format than most Liber drawings, as if Turner sought to emphasise the verticality of the scene, but when it was etched and engraved the composition was cropped at the top, bisecting the brightest distant patch of sky or rock at the upper left of the drawing, to conform to the standard proportions of the series.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ’78 | after S’ centre, ‘78’ bottom left, ‘original drawing for Via Mala R.78’ bottom centre, and ‘Presented by Sir Joseph Duveen 1922 | from the coll. of Lord Cathcart’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | 3631’ bottom centre
There are black and yellow marks, possibly in crayon, at the centre right, and a few splashes, probably of brown wash, to the lower centre.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard c.1806–7’, catalogue entry, May 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/devils-bridge-mt-st-gothard-r1131779, accessed 23 June 2024.