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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Little Devil's Bridge circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Little Devil’s Bridge circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI V
Pencil and watercolour on off-white writing paper, 184 x 260 mm
Watermark ‘1794 | J Whatman
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, ‘LITTLE DEVILS BRIDGE over the RUSS above ALTDORFT SWISSD.’, published Charles Turner, 29 March 1809
Turner had visited the Swiss Alpine site on his first Continental tour in 1802; the bridge over the Reuss, south of Altdorf near Wassen (towards the St Gotthard Pass), is also known as the Pfaffensprung (Priest’s Leap). Rawlinson noted it had ‘been for many years unused. A new one has been substituted higher up’1 and the area has since been exploited for hydroelectric works.2 There are two pencil drawings of the bridge in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04732, D04733; Turner Bequest LXXVI 72, 73). The first is a vertical sketch with its lower half given over to the rocky chasm, of necessity only implied in the horizontal Liber design; for the second, the page was used in ‘landscape’ format, and the drawing is closer to the final composition. The ledge and trees (though not the skeleton) in the foreground of the design appear to derive from a sketch from further away and below, in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate D04628; Turner Bequest LXXV 36), while watercolour studies in the latter book include similar combinations of battered trees and rocks (for example Tate D04607, D04610, D04627; Turner Bequest LXXV 15, 18, 35).
The present work is one of several Liber designs based on sketches in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (see also Tate D08153, D08161, D08164; Turner Bequest CXVII Y, CXVIII J, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G; and Tate N03631; in addition, Mer de Glace3 may have been etched directly from another page in the book). Mt St Gothard (Tate D08113; Turner Bequest CXVI L) and Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard (Tate N03631), which was engraved but not published, show nearby sites, and the three compositions appear successively in Turner’s MS list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (see below) suggesting that Turner considered them thematically linked.
In comparing the drawing with the print, Finberg observed:
How incapable Turner was of copying even one of his own drawings accurately is clearly shown by the etching ... almost every form in the design has been recast, not always to its individual advantage ..., but with an invariable gain in the direction of greater general cohesion. Note, for example, how the straight tree trunk nearest the bridge in the drawing gets bent slightly to the left, just to make you feel the toughness and obstinacy of the tree itself. The fir trees ... are more realistic in the drawing, but they are more forcible and dramatic in the engraving.4
As Gillian Forrester has noted, Turner sought to emphasise the harsh, ‘sharp and brilliant’ light in the subsequent print.5 Stopford Brooke described how ‘Solitary Desolation marks the deathfulnes of the Upper Alps by the skeleton of the mule set in the foreground with its skull couched like a dragon’s’, 6 and Gerald Finley has discussed the foregrounds of Turner’s Alpine scenes, using the present composition as an example of a type that, ‘unlike foregrounds in picturesque views, ... do not isolate the viewer from the scene; indeed, they beckon him; ... they transform the viewer from passive observer to threatened participant.’7
The composition is recorded, as ‘3[:] 4 Devils 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)8 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.9 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘Little Devils Bridge’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).10
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 29 March 1809 and was issued to subscribers as ‘LITTLE DEVILS BRIDGE over the RUSS above ALTDORFT SWISSD.’ in part 4 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.17–21;11 see also Tate D08121, D08122, D08125, D08126; Turner Bequest CXVI T, U, X, Y). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00947) and the published engraving (A00948 and A00949). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08130, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; CXVI L, R, CXVII C, G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B, G).
In the 1909 Inventory, Finberg listed another work (since recorded as missing) after the present drawing, as Turner Bequest CXVI W: ‘W. Little Devil’s Bridge. (R. 19) Print of engraving. Exhibited drawings, No.567b, N.G.’12 It was later noted, as the ‘etched foundation coloured in sepia by J.M.W. Turner to guide the engraver’, in the typescript of works13 for the comprehensive Liber exhibition held at the Tate Gallery and the Whitworth Institute, Manchester, between 1921 and 1923. This two-stage method was used for other Liber compositions, such as Scene on the French Coast (Tate D08104, D08105; Turner Bequest CXVI C, D) and Bridge and Goats (Tate D08146, D08147; Turner Bequest CXVII R, S).
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1858 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi14 (see general Liber introduction). Frank Short included this composition15 among his Twelve Subjects from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Etched and Mezzotinted by Frank Short (published by Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery, London, between 1885 and 1888), the first series of his Liber interpretations (Tate T05043;16 see general Liber introduction). In 1890, Turner’s Liber print was reproduced as a facsimile photogravure in the South Kensington Drawing-Book, with additional hand-engraving by Short.17
Rawlinson 1878, p.45.
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, p.135 (Liber engraving reproduced); see also Forrester 1996, p.67.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
Finberg 1910, p.80.
Forrester 1996, p.67 and note 3, citing transcription of Turner’s notes in Luke Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1990, p.47.
Brooke 1885, p.67.
Finley 1979, pp.164–5; see also Andrew Wilton, Turner and the Sublime, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1980, p.122.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.40–9; 1906, pp.49–58; Finberg 1924, pp.65–84.
Finberg 1909, I, p.318.
Tate Archive TG 92/9/2, p.1.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.76.
Hardie 1938, pp.44–5 no.2, reproduced p.[81] pl.I A.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.69, reproduced.
[John Ward] ed., Frederick Wedmore, Frank Short and others, The South Kensington Drawing-Book. A Selection from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. for Artists, Art Students, and Amateurs. A Drawing-Book Suggested by the Writings of Mr. Ruskin..., London [1890], frontispiece.
Technical Notes:
The sheet was possibly washed in the initial stages. There is some pencil sketching, though it was not followed very closely with watercolour washes and brushwork; scratching-out is particularly evident in the outlines of the bridge, silhouetted in a contre-jour effect, and in the trees and skeleton in the right foreground. The overall very warm brown of the composition comprises Indian red and burnt sienna shades.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘476’ centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – V’ bottom left
There are abrasions where the sheet was formerly stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Little Devil’s Bridge 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-little-devils-bridge-r1131725, accessed 23 June 2024.