A Twopeny Portfolio: #5 The Old Bridge, Oxford

This is the fifth work of twenty-five bought in a lot of Sundry Drawings and Watercolours, offered at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2-17, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.

Here we begin to examine a series of fine pencil drawings, all once mounted in an album, and numbered in the original sequence. The first takes us to Oxford.

David [later Revd.] Twopeny (1783-1876)
The Old Bridge, Oxford, 1824
Pencil on two pieces of heavyweight, white, wove paper, overall 100 x 185 mm, joined approx. 83mm from left, mounted on softer, textured heavyweight white wove paper, irregular, approx. 197 x 275 mm.
Dated in image, lower left, ‘1824’ and inscribed on verso of drawing, along top edge, ‘The Old Bridge, Oxford’. The mount embellished with a double framing line in pencil and inscribed in pencil, lower left ‘The Old Bridge, Oxford’. The mount also numbered on the verso in pencil, top left, ’39)’.

This is a careful but confident pencil drawing of a riverine landscape. The water fills the foreground, leading to a bridge in the middle distance flanked by buildings, with a frieze of tall trees on the bank to the right. A succession of river craft are moored before the bridge, including a heavy barge to the left, a large houseboat centre, several covered passenger boats towards the right succeeded by four sail barges. In the centre of the foreground is a punt carrying three male figures in mortar-boards and academic gowns, together with a ?female figure, apparently in bonnet and gown.

Click to view full-size:

The subject is the Old Bridge, also called Folly Bridge on the Thames at Oxford, as seen from the downstream side, which effectively marked the upper limit of the Thames navigation for larger craft. The bridge depicted here was at the end of its days in 1824 when work began on a replacement completed in 1827. Interestingly the same view was copied from a print by Turner when he was about aged twelve, and features academics boarding a punt ferry near the end of Christ Church walk, and a near-contemporary print of the view by J. Storer shows the southern landing of the ferry, near to the island boat house.

Folly Bridge and Bacon’s Tower, Oxford 1787 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00001
J Storer (after)
Boat House, Oxford [i.e. Folly Bridge] 1821
Image courtesy of Rareoldprints.com see

The drawing contains no direct indication of the artist, but the authorship of David Twopeny can be inferred with some confidence. The style is consistent in the first place with two other drawings in the portfolio, initialled and dated 1824 that can certainly be given to him.

An introduction to David Twopeny and the wider Twopeny family is given in part 3. The two initialled drawings are numbered 11) and 28) and the present drawing is numbered 39) in the same sequence. This drawing is the first in a fine sequence works in similar style that have been mounted on sheets of softer hand-made rag paper, which appear as we will see, to have formed pages of an album. The numerical sequence is incomplete in the portfolio, but a collation of the surviving leaves will be attempted in due course.

David Twopeny was twenty-one in 1824 and graduated that year from Oriel College, and the present drawing must have been made in the summer of his final examinations. The style is disciplined, observant, meticulous and very well practiced. It is a fine example of the style of drawing, characterised by hooks and dashes in the vegetation, and clean, brilliantly placed line work, that was popularised in the 1790s by Edward Dayes and his circle, and adopted by a generation of professionals and amateurs in the later 1790s and first couple of decades of the nineteenth century.

One of the great strengths of most of these drawings, apart from the extraordinary delicacy and sensitivity of the line-work, is the character and beauty of the figures. Here that is exemplified in the treatment of the rather precariously-loaded punt. Although small in size, it is a piece of bravura handling and draftsmanship, almost worthy of the greatest artist that worked in Edward Dayes’s studio, Thomas Girtin. There is also the same sense in this detail of a wry empathy with the potential dramas of the human situation. One cannot help but be drawn into some concern that there could be a capsize in the offing.


Next, a splendid Oxfordshire castle.

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