View in the Avon Gorge, by J. M. W. Turner. 1791. Pencil, watercolour and pen and brown ink on white wove paper. 231 x 294 mm. A watercolour related to his Bristol and Malmesbury Tour, this is in the Tate's collection: © Tate. It was accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest in 1856. Reference: D00114; Turner Bequest VII G. The image kindly released under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) license. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Andrew Wilton tells us that at this time Turner was staying in Bristol with friends of his father’s, the family of John Narraway, and that he filled his sketchbook "with carefully drawn, sometimes highly finished, views in pencil and watercolour, intended as models for finished compositions. He spent so much time drawing along the cliffs of the Avon Gorge that he acquired the nickname ‘The Prince of the Rocks.’"

This work is not one of those discussed by Ruskin in Chapter 5 ("Leaf Aspects") of Modern Painters, Vol. V, but it supports the author's contention that "the mingled definiteness and mystery" of Turner's work gave it a richness that is quite impossible to copy (39). As George Landow has pointed out, it might seem contradictory for Ruskin to praise and recommend both minute realism (as found in the PreRaphaelites) and visionary art. But he saw the one as a step to the other, an education of eye and hand that would be quite independent of received conventions, and lead to an enlargement of the imagination and a sense of the sublime (see especially Landow 21-29). Some of Turner's early sketches, like the slightly later one of Tintern Abbey, are so very precise that it is hard to imagine this leap happening. But View in the Avon Gorge, for all the almost oriental delicacy of the tree's branches, gives more than a hint of it. — Jacqueline Banerjee


"Joseph Mallord William Turner: View in the Avon Gorge." Tate. Web. 29 January 2019.

Landow, George. Ruskin. Routledge Revivals. London: Routledge, 2015.

Ruskin, John. Modern Painters, Vol. V.. London: Smith, Elder. 1860. Google Books. Free Ebook. Web. 29 January 2019.

Wilton, Andrew. "Bristol and Malmesbury Tour 1791." J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours. Ed. David Blayney Brown. London: Tate Research Publication, December 2012. (, accessed 29 January 2019).

Created 29 January 2019