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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Bridge and Cows circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Bridge and Cows circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI A
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 185 x 258 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, published J.M.W. Turner, ?11 June 1807
In this composition, the first to be published in the ‘Pastoral’ category of the Liber Studiorum, Turner’s debt to the landscapes of Thomas Gainsborough has been discussed by John Gage1 and Gillian Forrester; Turner’s friend W.F. Wells – said to have had a key role in the origins of the Liber in 1806 (see general Liber introduction) – had collaborated with John Laporte between 1802 and 1805 in publishing a series of soft-ground etchings after Gainsborough which Turner would presumably have known.2 These followed the technique of Gainsborough’s own prints such as The Watering Place of about 1776–7 (Tate N02210, T01435),3 which has compositional and stylistic affinities with Turner’s design.
As has been noted,4 Turner’s painting Cows in a Landscape with a Footbridge, of about 1805–7 (Tate N04657),5 is similar in its general composition to the present design, and related in style to the Thames oil sketches of about 1805;6 the most obvious differences are the figures at the top and bottom of the bank on the right of the drawing, in place of some of the cattle. By 1878, W.G. Rawlinson understood that ‘an earlier sketch, apparently direct from nature, is in the possession of Mr. Strutt, of Belper’,7 but the work is otherwise unrecorded.
In Modern Painters, John Ruskin discussed the composition as one of those ‘simplest subjects’ where a ‘feeling of decay and humiliation gives solemnity’8 and dolefully described ‘the pastoral by the brook side, with its neglected stream and haggard trees. And bridge with the broken rail, and decrepit children – fever-struck – one sitting stupidly by the stagnant stream, the other in rags, and with an old man’s hat on, and lame, leaning on a stick.’9 Finberg also found the drawing ‘feeble’, with its ‘objects ... sadly lacking in intention. ... They seem, indeed, to be mildly wondering why they are there at all. In a word, it is just the sort of drawing which an artist would make when external circumstances induced him to sit down and “do something,” while no strongly felt subject-matter within him was urgently demanding expression.’10 However, he used it as an example of the transformative power of Turner’s etched line in the subsequent print:
The change is due entirely to its execution. The line which defines the contours of the chief objects has lost its listlessness. It is now instinct with intention. ... In the two works there is actually a difference in the quality of the artist’s stream of consciousness. ... in all probability, he himself was quite unaware of the difference ... instead of a mere collection of parts, related to each other by a kind of chance or indifferent contiguity, we have now a definite whole, fused through and through into conceptual and emotional unity.11
The published plate was untitled; the present title is the customary one established by early scholars and collectors of the Liber, and codified in print in 1872.12 The composition is recorded, as ‘1[:] 1–Cows and Bridge’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)13 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.14 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘10 Cows and Bridge’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a).15
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, is in reverse in relation to the present drawing. It does not bear a publication date, but was issued to subscribers in part 1, probably on 11 June 180716 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.2–6;17 see also Tate D08103–D08106, D08110; Turner Bequest CXVI B, C, D, E, I). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00913) and the published engraving (A00914). It is the first of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Pastoral’ category (see also Tate D08111, D08116, D08121, D08127, D08136, D08140, D08145, D08151, D08158, D08167; Turner Bequest CXVI J, O, T, Z, CXVII I, M, Q, W, CXVIII D, M; and Tate N02941).
Between 1858 and 1865, Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi18 (see general Liber introduction).
John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, pp.115–16.
Forrester 1996, pp.47–8 and note 6.
Impressions reproduced: Gage 1987, p.116, pl.166; Forrester 1996, p.48 no.2iii.
P.J. and Clark 1952, p.14.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.124 no.196, pl.196.
Ibid., pp.115–23 nos.160–194.
Rawlinson 1878, p.9; not recorded in 1906 edition.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.432.
Ibid., p.433.
Finberg 1910, pp.73–4.
Ibid., pp.74–5.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.[17] no.2.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xxxii; Forrester 1996, p.12.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.9–19; 1906, pp.12–23; Finberg 1924, pp.5–24.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.[231]; Finberg 1924, p.8.
Technical Notes:
Detailed pencil drawing defines the figures and cows. Reserves were left for the lights; the foliage of the dark trees comprises washes only, with brushstrokes evident in the trunks. The brush was used quite dry, with no wet washes, scratching-out or washing-out. Only one pigment, a cool umber shade, was used.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Bridge and Cows c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-bridge-and-cows-r1131705, accessed 21 June 2024.