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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Bridge in a Mountain Pass c.1807-19

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Bridge in a Mountain Pass circa 1807–19
Turner Bequest CXV 48
Watercolour white wove lightweight writing paper laid on similar paper, 231 x 371 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CXV 48’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This work has traditionally been categorised as an unengraved design for the Liber Studiorum, and is probably a variation on the motif of an Alpine bridge spanning a gorge, explored by Turner in two other Liber compositions: Little Devils Bridge and Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard (for drawings see Tate D08123; Turner Bequest CXVI V, and Tate N03631). Unlike these, based on studies made during his first Continental tour in 1802, the present drawing does not appear to show a recognisable site and may have been a free variation to explore the possibilities of light and shade in such a situation, which could be dramatically expressed through the tonal variations inherent in the mezzotint process.
There are affinities with the diagonal fall of light and bright distances of the Little Devil’s Bridge, and with the sense of height and depth in the Mill near the Grand Chartreuse, the drawing for which (Tate D08156; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B) was originally a leaf in the Studies for Liber sketchbook, from which the present sheet also came. In the absence of specific evidence, the span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication, 1807–19, is suggested here as a date range (as it is for various other unpublished designs).
This is one of five unfinished compositions which were grouped at the end of the 1911 Miniature Edition of reproductions of the Liber, as suggestions (probably by W.G. Rawlinson, who gave ‘generous help and advice all through’1) for a ‘no.101??’ to bring the series up to the frontispiece plus a full twenty parts, each comprising five engravings. The others are Tate D08185–D08187 and D40045 (Turner Bequest CXVIII e, f, g, h).
Miniature Edition, 1911, p.[3].
Technical notes:
The sheet is from a batch watermarked ‘J Whatman | 1807’.1 The composition was laid in with rapid brown washes. The bridge and the form to its left – possibly a cottage, included to give a sense of scale – were then washed out. The form in sunlight above the other end of the bridge might almost be read as an animal, but the treatment is so summary that it may just be a fortuitous effect. The sheet is somewhat faded at its centre owing to prolonged display in the nineteenth century. There are finger- or palm-prints towards the lower right where an area of wash has been lifted.
Finberg grouped this sheet with the Studies for Liber sketchbook,2 though it had been removed either by Turner himself or for display during the nineteenth century; as he could not re-establish the original folio sequence of the detached pages (Tate D08098–D08101; Turner Bequest CXV 45–48), Finberg listed them following on from the ink numbers inscribed on the sheets remaining in the book. The sheet has been laid down on thicker paper, trimmed to the edge.
Notes by Peter Bower, Tate conservation files.
Finberg 1909, I, pp.314–15, CXV.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘D.08101’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CXV 48’ bottom left
There is thin tape around all the edges, where the work was previously mounted.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Bridge in a Mountain Pass c.1807–19 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, 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/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-bridge-in-a-mountain-pass-r1131853, accessed 14 June 2024.