Bristol Museum and Art Gallery secures Turner watercolour

JMW Turner

News release – embargoed: Bristol Museum and Art Gallery secures Turner watercolour

Please note the embargo on this release. There is an opportunity for
members of the media to see the Turner watercolour on Monday, June 10 at
11am at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

Embargoed until 00.01am, Monday, June 10, 2013

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery – with the support of the Art Fund and
the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery – has been successful in securing a
watercolour of the Avon Gorge by JMW Turner (1775-1851).  The
watercolour was painted during the young Turner’s stay with family
friends in Bristol when the artist was only sixteen years old.

The watercolour has now arrived at the museum and is being carefully
examined by the art gallery’s curators and conservators before it goes
on public display.

The work, which sold for £40,000 at Tennants Auctioneers’ Spring Sale
in March earlier this year, had been in a private collection since 1951.
The purchase was made possible through the generous support of the Art
Fund, which provided 50 percent of the required funding. Additional
support came from the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery and the Peter John
Blyth Art Fund (both contributing a further 25 percent).

JMW Turner was undoubtedly one of the most important British artists to
visit Bristol and seek inspiration from the dramatic landscape of the
Avon Gorge.

In 1791, at the age of only 16, Turner spent his September holiday in
Bristol with friends of his father, the Narraway family. During the
course of his stay, the young artist, who had joined the Royal Academy
Schools in 1789 and exhibited a watercolour at the Royal Academy for the
first time in 1790, spent so much of his time in the Avon Gorge that his
hosts nicknamed him the ‘Prince of the Rocks’. His sketchbook of this
visit is kept in the collections at Tate Britain.

Simon Cook, Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Capital programme
said: “This is an outstanding addition to Bristol’s fine art
collection and we are obviously delighted to have acquired a work by one
of Britain’s greatest artists. Our thanks go to the Art Fund, the
Friends of Bristol Art Gallery and the Peter John Blyth Art Fund for
making this acquisition possible.”

Julie Finch, head of Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives, said:
“We hope that this acquisition will be of great interest to our
national and international visitors. The watercolour will help to
explain and illustrate the aesthetic and historical relevance of the
Bristol landscape and will put Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and the
city on the map as a destination for Turner enthusiasts.”

Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives Curator Jenny Gaschke’s
assessment of the painting:

The work: Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (1775-1851)
The Mouth of the Avon, near Bristol, seen from cliffs below Clifton,
c.1791-2
Pencil and watercolour heightened with white. 22cm x 28.5 cm

This view of the Avon mouth is taken from inside a large, dark cavern
in the overgrown rock face beneath Clifton. Italianate light warms the
foliage as well as the scene beyond, both the boulders on the right,
where three climbers are clambering upwards, and the landscape in the
distance towards the Severn and South Wales. A narrative element, which
seems to have fascinated the young artist and which appears also in
other views taken in and of the Avon Gorge, is the passing vessel at the
bottom left of the composition, of which only the topsails can be seen
from this high vantage point.

It is an accomplished work for a young artist, already revealing his
subtle manipulation of nature to emphasise the drama of a scene: The
warm light is employed to render a more atmospheric effect and the
dimensions of the cave are enlarged. Taking the view from within the
dark cave sets this image apart from Turner’s other Avon Gorge views
and, although only in a general compositional manner, begs comparison
with Grand Tour views of caves before the artist had actually visited
Italy himself.

Significance:
The work’s significance for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery lies both
in the attribution to Joseph Mallord William Turner and the motif
itself. The collection so far includes only few works by the artist and
his Bristol scenes date from a formative moment in the young man’s
career. In the still strongly topographical approach of the Bristol
visits, Turner further developed his own style and artistic confidence.
This finished work shows areas of scratching out and finger and thumb
prints, which are characteristic for Turner’ s method. The carefully
chosen and skilfully rendered composition allows the work to stand
alone, although it is smaller than other finished views of the Gorge.
The watercolour therefore will reveal for our collection the quality and
invention of Turner’s early work. As a historic document, too, it
relates directly to his first and second Bristol visit.

Furthermore, the image is one of the earliest artistic renderings of
the view down the river Avon of high quality, succeeded by the
landscapes of famous ‘Bristol School’, including Francis Danby
(1793-1861), Edward Villiers Rippingille (c.1790-1859), Samuel Jackson
(1794-1869), and James Johnson (1803-1834). It illustrates the discovery
of both the Bristol and British landscape as a whole in the second half
of the eighteenth century.

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