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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ivy Bridge, Devonshire c.1814-15

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ivy Bridge, Devonshire c.1814–15
Turner Bequest CCVIII X
Watercolour and gum arabic on white wove paper, 280 x 440 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1811’
Inscribed by Turner in watercolour or ink ‘J M W T’ bottom left
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCVIII – X’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Engraving by J.C. Allen, ‘Ivy Bridge, Devonshire’, published W.B. Cooke, London, 4 June 1821
The narrow medieval Ivy Bridge still carries Blachford Road across the River Erme in the centre of Ivybridge, a few miles east of Plymouth in Devon. It can be seen upstream to the north from the footpath beside Harford Road, just above the eastern bank. There is a later bridge carrying Fore Street a little way to the south.
Referring to page ‘153’ of the 1811 Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook as a source for the watercolour, Eric Shanes1 presumably intended the more extensive drawing on the verso (Tate D08655; Turner Bequest CXXIII 153a) rather than the unfinished version on the recto (D08654; CXXIII 153). Diane Perkins was tentative in identifying this verso sketch,2 but it seems likely that it does show the Ivy Bridge, as Turner would have crossed it on his 1811 route westwards through Devon between Totnes and Plymouth. As John Ruskin first recognised,3 the more direct source is a relatively broad drawing in the Devon Rivers, No.2 sketchbook (Tate D09722; Turner Bequest CXXXIII 45), which shows the bridge in its wider setting. The sketchbook was apparently used in 1814, although it has traditionally been associated with Turner’s 1813 visit to Devon, hence the earlier dating of the present work in some previous sources.
Elaborations in the finished version here include the ducks in the foreground, a washing tub on the right and a coach preparing to leave in the left distance; the figure waving to the coach from the bridge appears to have an indistinct forerunner at that point in the pencil sketch. The composition was engraved by 1816 for W.B. Cooke’s troubled Rivers of Devon project, which was abandoned after a few plates (see the concordance in the Introduction to the present section);4 this design was not actually published until 18215 (Tate impression: T06011).
In a letter written to his father from Venice on 23 January 1852, shortly after Turner’s death, Ruskin (a significant collector as well as the artist’s critical champion) had included this work as number ‘11’ in a list of ten watercolours and one group of sketches of ‘Class 2nd’, defined as ‘Those which I would give anything in reason for’, should it become available from the artist’s estate.6 In the event, following the acceptance by the nation of the Turner Bequest in 1856, the watercolour was one of the first to be exhibited, selected by a National Gallery committee to be shown at Marlborough House in January 1857 as the only named subject in a group numbered 45–9;7 it was renumbered 556 when shown in ongoing Bequest displays for much of the later nineteenth century.8
In 1857 Ruskin described Ivy Bridge as ‘[c]haracteristic, in its increasing refinement, of the close of the first period’9 of his personal classification of Turner’s supposed stylistic development, while in 1881 he mentioned it as one of the ‘types of his finest manner, unaffected by ... weakness of minute execution’.10 In 1869, comparing examples of modern and ancient art, he had recommended that students should
look at Turner’s drawing of “Ivy Bridge.” You will find water in it like real water, and the ducks in it are like real ducks. Then go into the British Museum, and look for an Egyptian landscape, and you will find the water in that constituted of blue zig-zags, not at all like water; and ducks in the middle of it made of red lines ... They are very good in their way, but Turner’s are better.11
In relation to Sam Smiles’s idea of the West Country’s bringing out strong Italianate atmosphere and colour in Turner’s work some years before his first Italian tour in 1819,12 Jan Piggott has described a characteristic ‘pale yellow light’ exemplified by the present work, ‘wonderfully luminous among the trees and under the bridge’ against ‘contrasting darks’.13
Turner’s oil Ivy Bridge Mill, Devonshire (private collection),14 exhibited at his own London gallery in 1812, shows a nearby wooded view on the Erme, based on a sketch in the 1811 Ivy Bridge to Penzance sketchbook (Tate D08938; Turner Bequest CXXV 47), where there is also an unfinished watercolour of a rocky riverbed, probably also begun at Ivybridge (Tate D08939;
Turner Bequest CXXV 48).
Shanes 1981, p.152, and 1990, pp.37, 283 note 14; see also Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102.
Perkins 1990, p.43.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.277; see also Finberg 1909, I, p.378; Wilton 1979, p.350; Spender and Fry 1980, p.102; Shanes 1981, p.152, and 1990, pp.37, 283 note 14; Perkins 1990, p.26, albeit as ‘CXXXII 45’; and Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102.
See also Rawlinson I 1908, pp.xci, 74–6 nos.137–140.
See ibid., p.76.
Letter transcribed in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.xlviii–ix.
Warrell 1995, p.148.
See Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.635.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in ibid., p.269 no.74.
‘Catalogue of the Drawings and Sketches by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. at Present Exhibited in the National Gallery’ in ibid., p.366.
‘The Hercules of Camarina’ (an ‘Address to the Students of the Art School of South Lambeth, March 15th, 1869’) incorporated in ‘Lecture III: Athena Ergane (Athena in the Heart)’ of ‘The Queen of the Air: Being a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm’ (1869) in Cook and Wedderburn 1905, pp.411–12.
See Sam Smiles, Light into Colour: Turner in the South West, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2006, pp.12–13.
Piggott 2006, p.7; for similar comments see also Tyrrell-Gill 1904, p.62; Hardie 1967, p.32; Shanes 1981 p.21; Shanes 1990, p.37; Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.102; and Brown 2002, p.88.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.86–7 no.122, pl.128.
Technical notes:
The watercolour is heavily worked in places with scratching out of highlights on features such as tree trunks, rocks and ripples. In the trees, scratching out was followed by the application of further colour. Andrew Loukes has noted the ‘deft use of gum Arabic to evoke the rich effect of dense foliage in shadow’.1
Loukes in Warrell 2007, p.83.
Blank, save for inscriptions: stamped in black ‘CCVIII – X | [Turner Bequest monogram]’ below centre and inscribed in pencil ‘D.18157’ immediately below.

Matthew Imms
July 2014

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Ivy Bridge, Devonshire c.1814–15 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, July 2014, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ivy-bridge-devonshire-r1147449, accessed 21 May 2024.