Colour beginning: Kilnsey Crag and Conistone Bridge, Upper Wharfedale Yorkshire. Called ‘A Bridge in Mist’; ‘White Bridge’, c.1825

Watercolour, 11 3/4 x 18 1/2 ins

Private Collection

Turner catalogues: not in Wilton; tdb1901

This is a good-sized watercolour study of a light-suffused river valley landscape. A long, many-arched bridge stretches across the composition in the mid-distance whilst a shallow river flows away in the lower right corner. Blue hills close the distance.

Bridge in a Mist
Image courtesy of Andrew Clayton Payne

This watercolour escaped Wilton’s catalogue in 1979, even though it had once been owned by the major Turner scholar A.J.Finberg, who was responsible for the first catalogue of the Turner Bequest published in 1909, and for the still-foundational ‘Life of Turner’ published in 1939.

It surfaced briefly in 1983 when exhibited by Agnew’s in Japan under the title of ‘White Bridge: Colour-beginning’ and was noticed, but not reproduced by Turner Studies.

After that it remained out of sight until its recent publication and sale by the British watercolours specialist Andrew Clayton Payne under the title of ‘A Bridge in the Mist’.

Kilnsey Crag and Conistone Bridge, Wharfedale, Yorkshire
Photograph taken by David Hill, 1983

The subject can here be identified as Kilnsey Crag and Conistone Bridge, Upper Wharfedale Yorkshire. Turner visited the site in 1816 whilst touring Yorkshire to gather subjects for the projected ‘General History of the County of York’ by Thomas Dunham Whitaker.

Image courtesy of Tate

The tour was treated in detail by David Hill in ‘In Turner’s Footsteps through the Hills and Dales of Northern England’ published in 1984. Turner sketched this subject in detail in the largest sketchbook that he carried with him on the tour, the ‘Yorkshire 5’ sketchbook (TB Turner Bequest CXLVIII 19a-20; Tate D11555-D11556).

The original commission was for two hundred watercolours and was the most valuable that Turner ever received. In the event the project was not a great financial success, and was terminated when the author died in 1821 with only twenty engravings finished. These were published together as the solely completed part, ‘An History of Richmondshire’.

Kilnsey Crag and Conistone, Upper Wharfedale 1816 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Turner made colour beginnings as a means of rehearing the phenomenal effects intended for his finished watercolours. There are several colour beginnings for Yorkshire subjects, including ones e for subjects that were not completed. It is noteworthy in this case that Turner made an alternative colour-beginning of the subject (Turner Bequest TB CXCVII O; Tate D17205). This is not uncommon in Turner’s practice, but does suggest that he attached some importance to this particular composition.

It seems possible that he did find an alternative outlet for a finished version of this subject, for the sketch is inscribed ‘C Cope | 29 Park Square | by the 31st of Decr’. A similar inscription on another page of the same sketchbook (Turner Bequest CXLVIII 25; D11564;) adds the date 1825. Charles Cope was a Leeds-based artist and engraver, and it may be that he thought to engrave the subject himself. It seems possible that the Tate colour-beginning is a few years earlier than the present example and made with the ‘History of Richmondshire’ composition in mind, but the present study was made anew for the Cope commission. The Turner Bequest example is cooler in colour, and less ethereal in handling. It is not impossible that a finished watercolour did materialise, but none such has ever been recorded.


A.J.Finberg to
Christie’s 8 July 1921, lot 17;
L Friedlander by whom bequeathed to
D.G.Ells and by family descent (1983) to
Private collector to
Andrew Clayton Payne, London by whom sold to
Private Collector

References and exhibitions:

Hill, 1984, pp.44-45, discussing 1816 tour and sketches of Kilnsey, but unaware of this particular example;
Exh by Agnew’s in Japan, November 1983 as no.8, ‘White Bridge Colour beginning, from the collection of the late D.G.Ells’;
Turner Studies: 1984, 4 (1) 62, not repr, reporting exhibition in Japan;
Andrew Clayton Payne website [accessed 29 June 2020] as ‘A Bridge in the Mist’, mid 1820s, repr colour;

DH July 2020

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