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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Bridge in the Middle Distance circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Bridge in the Middle Distance circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI P
Pen and ink, 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, aquatint and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 10 June 1808
The bridge was probably inspired by the distinctive long, two-humped bridge at Walton-on-Thames in Surrey – then relatively new, but replaced later in the nineteenth century. At about the time of this Liber Studiorum design, Turner painted two topographical views in oils from opposite directions, each known as Walton Bridges; one was possibly exhibited at his gallery in 1806 (private collection),1 and the other may have appeared there in the following year (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).2 In turn, these were based on various sketches dating from Turner’s explorations a few miles up the Thames from his temporary home at Isleworth in 1805, when he viewed the Thames Valley as both a setting for contemporary subjects and as the inspiration for a series of timeless, classical themes.3 Rawlinson refers to ‘an earlier [Liber] sketch’ owned by Mr. Strutt of Belper, Derbyshire in 1878,4 but it is not mentioned in the subsequent literature.
The composition has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.87 (Landscape)5 and, from an 1802 print in Earlom’s secondary 1802–17 series, no.3.6 In Modern Painters, Ruskin was dismissive of the more Claudian compositions in the Liber: ‘The designs ... are founded first on nature, but in many cases modified by forced imitation of Claude, and fond imitation of Titian. All the worst and feeblest studies in the book ... owe the principal part of their imbecilities to Claude’.7 Stopford Brooke felt that Turner’s ‘naturalism intrudes; and that unity of sentiment so necessary in an artificial composition is destroyed. ... The landscape itself is half Italian and half English.’8 However, other commentators have admired the dreamlike effect,9 and the ‘idyllic, idealising mood’ with its ‘hushed, Arcadian atmosphere’.10
Thornbury noted that in the subsequent print a ‘tree in the foreground is remarkable for the fact that it casts three shadows. I suppose the other two stems were taken out in some alterations, and the attendant shadows forgotten. Turner, like other great men, knew how to blunder.’11 Rawlinson blamed the engraver,12 but a similar, inexplicable effect is evident in the drawing. However, the general quality of light in the drawing has been praised as a rare instance of ‘an adequate preliminary [Liber] study’,13 in the sense that it did not require much revision in its translation into the aquatint and mezzotint tones of the subsequent engraving.
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 1872.14 The composition is recorded, as ‘3[:] 2 Walton Bridges’, 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)15 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.16 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Walton Bridges’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).17
The Liber Studiorum etching, aquatint and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers in part 3 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.12–16;18 see also Tate D08116, D08118–D08120; Turner Bequest CXVI O, Q, R, Vaughan Bequest CXVI S). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00935) and the published engraving (A00936). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction, and drawings Tate D08103, D08112, D08122, D08128, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; Turner Bequest CXVI B, K, U, CXVII A, E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N).
Towards the end of his career, Turner used this composition as the basis of one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see general Liber introduction for details); the painting, known as Landscape with Walton Bridges, is in a private collection;19 the distinctive two-humped silhouette of the Walton-on-Thames structure is evident.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.47–8 no.60, pl.70 (colour).
Ibid., p.50 no.63, pl.71 (colour).
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993, particularly p.128; David B[layney] Brown, ‘William Turner: Life and Works’ in Brown, Shimbata and Numata 1997, p.35.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.87; from 1644–5 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–93: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, pp.107–8, reproduced pl.87).
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1819, pl.3; from a drawing then in Richard Payne Knight’s collection.
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.399.
Brooke 1885, p.46.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.128.
Thornbury 1862 [1861], I, p.278.
Rawlinson 1878, p.33.
Herrmann 1990, p.[46]
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.22 no.13.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.30–9; 1906, pp.37–48; Finberg 1924, pp.45–64.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.301 no.511, pl.513 (colour).
Technical Notes:
Curved brushstrokes of watercolour of different weights have been used to indicate the trees, with coarser pigment for the heavier washes. A fine pin or engraving needle (and possibly also Turner’s thumb-nail) was used for scratching-out. Limited scraping-out is evident in the right-hand seated figure. The horizon and middle distance are very indistinct, and were clarified by Turner in his outline etching. The trees and foreground are more clearly indicated, with heavy lines of watercolour. The overall tone is a warm brown ‘bistre’, as a result of the burnt sienna shade used, though at the lower edge there is also a greyish sepia shade.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘Pl 13’, top left, ‘3’, top right, ‘2’ [circled] and ‘20’, centre, and ‘13’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – P’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Bridge in the Middle Distance 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-the-bridge-in-the-middle-distance-r1131719, accessed 21 June 2024.