- Museum number
Mountain Pass in the Tyrol; view from a height overlooking a river, group of horses and figure on horseback cross over a single arched bridge and along a track which winds around a steep mountainside near the foot of a gorge
Watercolour, over graphite
- Production date
Height: 219 millimetres
Width: 284 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The composition of this watercolour derives in part from the Little Devil’s Bridge in Turner’s Liber Studiorum, a plate published in 1809 (G. Forrester, ‘Turner’s “drawing book” the Liber Studiorum’, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1996, cat. 19). Cotman’s repoussoir of trees in the left foreground, which repositions Turner’s foreground trees, seems to point conclusively to this source (the Reeve collection contains a small copy of this print, 1902,0514.269). Other elements in Cotman’s watercolour, particularly the horses approaching the bridge along the narrow parapet, are however based on the companion plate, Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard, which was never published (ibid., cat. 78). Evidence of Cotman’s interest in Turner’s alpine subjects also survives in a little sketch in the Reeve collection copiously inscribed with colour notes, mis-titled Via Mala, which is based on the watercolour The Pass of St Gothard exhibited at Turner’s Gallery in 1804 (1902,0514.135*). In concocting his Mountain Pass in the Tyrol Cotman may also have benefited from the recollection of the oil version of the Devil’s Bridge subject, painted for John Allnutt around 1804 (M. Butlin and E. Joll, ‘The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner’, 1977, no. 147); this is not known to have been exhibited, and Cotman must have seen it at the owner’s, or perhaps more likely, the artist’s home.
Cotman takes considerable liberties with his version, chiefly in bringing the river up to the level of the bridge, where previously there was deep empty gully. The Reeve watercolour dates from around 1808-10, but Cotman returned to the subject much later, for one drawing in the Whitworth Art Gallery (where mis-titled Devil’s Bridge, Cardiganshire) and two more in the Reeve Collection which playfully rearrange elements from the print into new configurations (1902,0514.99 and 100). There is yet another reworking in a drawing signed ‘J.S. Cotman King’s College’ also owned by Reeve (1902,0514.135). Finally, there are two watercolours of the same subject: Via Mala in Norwich (NWHCM : 1951.235.202) and a work which also perpetuates the same misnomer in the collection of Lord Mackintosh of Halifax (V. Rienaecker, 'John Sell Cotman 1782-1842', 1953, pl. 49). The latter appears, from the published photographs, to have been painted in the 1830s, perhaps with the involvement of one of Cotman’s sons, but uses yet another, much earlier, variant on the unpublished Turner plate as a step in the elaboration of the design (Pont Aber Glaslyn (Beddgellert Bridge) in Leeds; Boswell & Miller 1992, cat. 6).
This drawing was included in the 2005 exhibition: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, 'John Sell Cotman: The Reeve Collection', for which there is an online exhibition catalogue on the Norwich Castle website [http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Visit_Us/Norwich_Castle/Past_Exhibitions/2005/Cotman_in_the_British_Museum/index.htm].
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1888 Jul, Norwich Art Circle, 9th Exhibition, 'Drawings by John Sell Cotman', no.23
1888 Nov, Burlington Fine Arts Club, no.5
1892 London Royal Academy, 'Winter Exhibition of Old Masters' no.27
1998 Aug-Nov, Castel Tirolo, Museo Provinciale di Castel Tirolo, 'Attraverso Le Alpi', no.
2005 Mar-Jul, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, 'John Sell Cotman: The Reeve Collection', no.72
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number