Chepstow Bridge and Castle. Called ‘Chepstow Castle’, c.1793

Watercolour on paper, 203 x 297 mm, 8 x 11 5/8 ins

Inscribed lower left: ‘Turner’

Courtauld Institute of Art Galleries, University of London (1.74)

Turner catalogues: Wilton no.88; tdb0238

This is a medium-sized studio watercolour showing the view from downstream of a wooden bridge springing right from the far bank of a broad river, with a castle beyond to the right, and cottages on the far shore left. To the left of the bridge is a single-masted cabin vessel beached by the tide, albeit with its sail raised There is a rowing boat at its stern and a two masted vessel beyond. There are various figures on the bridge, and a large covered wagon at the far end, just to the right of the sail.

Courtauld Institute Galleries, London: Photograph by David Hill

The subject is Chepstow, Wales, as seen from the north across the river Wye. The scene is recognisable today, albeit somewhat interfered with by the growth of trees and modern building, but the bridge shown by Turner was replaced in 1816 by one of iron, which has survived to celebrate its recent bicentenary.

This is the second of sixteen watercolours by Turner that were engraved for publication in The Copper Plate Magazine. The plate was engraved by J Storer and appeared in volume 2, as pl.67, bearing the publication date of 1 November 1794.

Chepstow, engraved by Storer published 1794 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Transferred from the British Museum 1988

No pencil sketch of this subject is known but the Turner Bequest has two pencil sketches of Chepstow Castle that are dated to a visit of 1792. Presumably the drawing for this subject was made at the same time.

Selbourne, Powell and Wilton 2008 discuss the fact that the verso of the Courtauld watercolour has a richly-coloured lay-in of the composition, in reverse, made to chime with the design on the recto. This was only discovered during conservation in 1985. This is one of several similar experiments that Turner made to explore how this might contribute to the overall effect. The same source compares the watercolour of Llandeilo Bridge and Dynevor Castle (National Museum of Wales), and the discussion of that watercolour by Christine Mackay in an article published in 1998. A similar experiment can also be found in the watercolour of Norham Castle, Sunrise at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford.

It needs to be remarked that there are significant differences between the Courtauld watercolour and the engraving. The principal difference is that the watercolour is taken from a lower viewpoint to the engraving. The bridge is comprehensively reworked in the engraving, being flattened, having its piers redistributed and adding an extra pier at the right. Lesser differences include the treatment of the water, the distant boat at the right, the position of the rowing boat in the left middle distance, and difference of details in figures on the road, position and detail of boats etc. In truth, however, every single detail is reworked to some degree.

The watercolour is altogether more subtle and engaged with its detail, and the differences are sufficient, especially given that engraving is normally a transcriptive art, to suggest the possibility that the engraving might have been based on a different watercolour altogether.

On the other hand the Courtauld watercolour is of a similar size, painted in a similar style and palette, and is similarly signed, to the first watercolour engraved for The Copper-Plate Magazine, that of Rochester, and it seems very likely that they were made as a pair.

It seems odd, however, that, if this watercolour was that set before the engraver, that he felt so so little beholden to it as to transcribe the subject entirely freehand. Turner would have been very much in the subordinate position in this early career artistic relationship. If so, we might only guess what he thought of such treatment. Certainly he learned to be determinedly pugnacious with his engravers once he felt better established.

There are also various discrepancies in the provenances given by different sources, perhaps sufficient to allow there to have been two different watercolours.

Wilton 1979 notes: ‘Finberg (Index) gives a drawing of this subject, 12 x 16 1/4 (300 x 412) to Monro, Leaf and Heron; but the drawing in the anon. sale of 1860 looks more like the subject for engraving’.

Armstrong 1902 identifies the engraved drawing with that in the Heron sale, 1890, and Rawlinson 1908 concurs. The dimensions given there (16 12/ x 12 1/2) can be taken to indicate the framed size.

Armstrong, however, gives the prior provenance for the Heron watercolour as ‘Chr. 1833, Dr Monro, 1875, W Leaf,’ and also says that it appeared ‘Ex Leaf Collection. Intern. Exhib. 1862’, which agrees with Finberg’s record card mentioned by Wilton.

Wilton 1979 gives ?Chambers 1859, ?Foster 1860, ?Heron 1890, Cotswold Gallery and Sir Stephen Courtauld.

The most detailed version of the provenance so far is that given by Selbourne, Powell and Wilton 2008, no.4. That provenance identifies the Courtauld watercolour with one in the collection of Charles Stokes, Turner’s stockbroker, in 1853 and traces that to Stokes’ niece, Hannah Cooper and thence to Turner’s one-time dealer Thomas Griffith in 1858. The rest follows Wilton 1979, and like Wilton does not include either Dr Monro or William Leaf in the main sequence. How this might be resolved is as yet unclear, but it does seem possible that there might be two distinct histories interwoven here, with one object currently untraced.

The watercolour engraved for The Copper-plate Magazine is almost certainly to be identified with the Chambers 1859 reference. That sale featured a number of subjects that had been commissioned for Harrison &Co and John Walker projects.


?Dr Thomas Monro, to
Christie’s, 1833;
?Charles Stokes (1853) d.1853 and by descent to his niece
Hannah Cooper by whom sold 1858 to
Thomas Griffith;
?R. Chambers, to
Christie’s 29 March 1859 (7, as ‘Chepstow Castle and Bridge’), bought for £15 by
?anon., to
Foster’s 19 November 1860 (88, as ‘Chepstow Castle and Bridge’), ?bt. In;
?William Leaf of Park Hill, Streatham (1862) d.1874 to
Christie’s 6-8 May 1875;
Sir Joseph Heron, to
Christie’s 9 June 1890 (75), bt.
Cotswold Gallery;
Sir Stephen Courtauld; presented in his memory 1974 to the
London, University of, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1.74

Publications and Exhibitions:

Engraved by J. Storer dated I November 1794 as ‘Chepstow’ for the Copper Pate Magazine, and issued in vol.2, pl.67.
The Itinerant, 1799, reworked re-issue of 1794 plate;
Charles Stokes MSS 1853 as ‘Chepstow Bridge, 1794’;
Miller 1854, pl.2
?Exh International Exhibition, 1862, no. 1041 as ‘Chepstow (drawing), lent by W. Leaf’;
Thornbury 1877 p.607 reporting the 1859 Chambers sale as ‘Chestow Castle and Bridge. (Slight sketch.) £15. Mr Gambart.’;
Armstrong 1902, p246 as “Chepstow Castle”. Circa 1793. [Ex Leaf Collection. Intern. Exhib. 1862. Chr. 1833, Dr Monro, 1875, W Leaf, 1890, Sir J Heron]. 16 1/2 x 12 1/2. Engraved by Storer, “Intinerant”, 1794;
Rawlinson 1908, no.2 [giving Heron 1890 provenance];
Kitson 1;
Wilton 1979, No. 88 as ‘Chepstow Castle c.1793’, repro b/w;
Turner worldwide, 2004, no.126 as ‘Chepstow Castle circa 1793’, repr colour;
Selbourne, Powell and Wilton 2008, no.4 as ‘Chepstow Castle, c.1793-4’, repr color, and significantly revising provenance.

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