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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Grenoble Bridge c.1824

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Grenoble Bridge c.1824
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 345
Watercolour with stopping and scratching out on white wove paper, 554 x 767 mm (irregular)
Watermarked ‘J. WHATMAN | TURKEY MILLS | 1825’
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘P Mag’ top right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Apparently in 1824, Turner made a watercolour Grenoble Bridge (Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland)1 for Charles Holford, in John Ruskin’s words ‘exquisitely realised’2 from a drawing in the Grenoble sketchbook (Tate D04506; Turner Bequest LXXIV 14) of 1802. This shows Grenoble from the River Isère with the Pont de St Laurent, a wooden bridge with stone piers (replaced in 1837 by a suspension bridge, the Passarelle St Laurent), the Bastille on the left bank and the Belledonne range of mountains in the distance. In its finished form it became one of Turner’s grandest portraits of European scenery and city life, built around the motif of the bridge with a rigour that has been compared to Nicolas Poussin3 and in a sparkling palette of contrasted blue and gold.
Turner had labelled his 1802 drawing ‘Ville de Grenoble Mt Blanc’, and later added the initial ‘F’ to note a possible commission from Walter Fawkes, for whom he made a group of Swiss and Alpine subjects from his drawings of 1802. However, the subject is not included in the list of works for Fawkes in the Greenwich sketchbook (Tate D06824; Turner Bequest CII 52) and seems to have been assigned to Edward Swinburne as ‘Ed Swinburne 40 Gn Grenoble’ is noted elsewhere in the book (D16721; Turner Bequest CII 1). Again it seems to have been dropped and was only revived for Holford, of whom little is known save that his widow lived in Hampstead.4 At some point meanwhile, Turner had included ‘14 Grenoble’ in a list of French and Swiss subjects written on the back of a random pencil sketch (D08253; Turner Bequest CXX m).
Grenoble Bridge is the only work by Turner that Holford is known to have owned and the date of 1824 comes from a note in a Christie’s sale catalogue when it was sold for the second time, having already left his collection.5 The present work is one of four progressive colour studies for the watercolour, all dating from about the same time; the others are Tate D25491, D25469, D25490; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 368, 346, 367. Two of these, D25469 and D25491 are on the same paper, watermarked 1823, as the Holford watercolour. This one, to all appearances the first to be made, is on paper watermarked 1825; see Technical notes below for a possible explanation of this anomaly.
This study sets out the basic composition and colour structure of the watercolour with broad areas of ochre and blue with highlights of white scratched into the paper to indicate mountain snow. The architecture of the city is hardly indicated at all and even the bridge is only suggested by one or two of its piers. If, as seems likely, this study was shown with another of the Bequest set (D25469; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 346) at Marlborough House, it was praised by Ruskin in his catalogue notes for the ‘most exquisite way’ in which it treats the ‘general under-tone’.6 In later notes for the National Gallery, Ruskin described the two studies as ‘among the most exquisite fragments existing of [Turner’s] central manner. They are beginnings of a favourite subject, which he seems to have found beyond his power on this scale, and afterwards finished on a reduced one. They may properly close the examples of his work in pure water-colour.’7
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.345 no.404.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.266.
Andrew Wilton in Maurice Guillaud and others, Turner en France: aquarelles, peintures, dessins, gravures, carnets de croquis / Turner in France: Watercolours, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, Sketchbooks, exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris 1981, p.37.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.266.
Christie’s sale, London, 6 February 1872, lot 626; and previously 24 June 1861, lot 28.
Ruskin on Pictures; Cook 1902, p.248; Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.309.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.366.
Technical notes:
The paper was made by Finch and Thomas Robert Hollingworth at Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent and watermarked ‘J WHATMAN | TURKEY MILLS | 1825’. This would seem puzzling as the Holford watercolour is said to have been made in 1824 and two of the other Tate colour studies are watermarked 1823. However, Ian Warrell notes the possibility that the paper was made in 1824 for the Indian market and dated to the year it would be expected to arrive on the subcontinent.
The sheet has been numbered ‘391’ as an addition to Finberg’s group of ‘Colour Beginnings 1820–30’, Turner Bequest CCLXIII. However as noted by Warrell and Peter Bower it can be identified with Finberg’s CCLXIII 345, described as having the same 1825 watermark and ‘Faded, especially the gamboge’,1 for some years listed as missing. There is similar fading here, and evidence of a former mount; as noted above, CCLXIII 345 was exhibited at the National Gallery. In some publications this drawing bears the Tate accession number D25515, since cancelled.
Finberg 1909, p.841.
Laid down

David Blayney Brown
January 2012

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Grenoble Bridge c.1824 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, January 2012, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, August 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-grenoble-bridge-r1146532, accessed 23 May 2024.