Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire.  Formerly called 'Chirk Aqueduct'. thumbnail 1
Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire.  Formerly called 'Chirk Aqueduct'. thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H , Case WD, Shelf 21

Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire. Formerly called 'Chirk Aqueduct'.

Watercolour
1805 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The quality of this beautiful watercolour derives from the simplicity of its composition, three great arches of a viaduct standing alone in the countryside and the delicate play of washes that envelop it and suggest the fall of sunlight on the scene. Cotman does not show us the whole structure, but takes it up to its piers to suggest domination over the surrounding landscape. It is shown off-centre to suggest a progression of arches to the left and right. The strength and power of the structure are contrasted with the fragility of the rickety wooden fence glimpsed through the arches below.
Although the viaduct, designed and built by John Carr in 1785, was only 20 years old when Cotman painted it, some of the rendering that Carr had specified had already fallen off, revealing the long slabs of local stone beneath. Thus the structure had mellowed, and superficially resembled some of the ancient Roman aqueducts that were rendered in a similar way.
read What is watercolour? From the moment the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) opened its doors to the public in 1857, watercolours were at the heart of the new museum's ambitions for its fine art collections. It was the artist Richard Redgrave, the government's Inspector-General for Art, who championed the fo...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour
Brief Description
Watercolour showing Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire, formerly called 'Chirk Aqueduct', 1805. John Sell Cotman
Physical Description
Watercolour showing three arches of a viaduct crossing a stream.
Dimensions
  • Height: 31.6cm
  • Width: 23.2cm
Style
Gallery Label
John Sell Cotman 1782-1842 Aqueduct, formerly identified as Chirk Aqueduct About 1806-1807 Cotman was a leading figure in the Norwich school of watercolour painters. This is one of his key works. He toured Wales in 1800 and may have seen Chirk Aqueduct, near Wrexham. However, the imposing structure is probably the work of his imagination. Its monumentality is expressed by the implied infinity of the arches and the low viewpoint. Pencil and watercolour on paper Purchased 1892 Museum no. 115-1892
Object history
When this watercolour was acquired by the Museum in 1892, it was catalogued with the title `A viaduct'. It retained this title until the 1930s, and at some point after that was mistakenly identified as being an image of Chirk Aqueduct.
Production
For the identification of the location as Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire, rather than Chirk Aqueduct, see David Hill 'Cotman in the North: watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire', New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005, pages 92-93.
Subjects depicted
Places Depicted
Summary
The quality of this beautiful watercolour derives from the simplicity of its composition, three great arches of a viaduct standing alone in the countryside and the delicate play of washes that envelop it and suggest the fall of sunlight on the scene. Cotman does not show us the whole structure, but takes it up to its piers to suggest domination over the surrounding landscape. It is shown off-centre to suggest a progression of arches to the left and right. The strength and power of the structure are contrasted with the fragility of the rickety wooden fence glimpsed through the arches below.

Although the viaduct, designed and built by John Carr in 1785, was only 20 years old when Cotman painted it, some of the rendering that Carr had specified had already fallen off, revealing the long slabs of local stone beneath. Thus the structure had mellowed, and superficially resembled some of the ancient Roman aqueducts that were rendered in a similar way.
Bibliographic References
  • David Hill `Cotman in the North: watercolours of Durham and Yorkshire', New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005. 185p. ill (some colour). ISBN 0300114044.
  • 100 Great Painting in The Victoria & Albert Museum.London: V&A, 1985, p.94
  • Coombs, Katherine British watercolours : 1750-1950 . London: V&A Publications, 2012p.121, pl.114
Collection
Accession Number
115-1892

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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