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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H , Case WD, Shelf 21


1801 (made)
Place of origin

Watercolour on paper entitled 'Devil's Bridge, Cardigan'. Signed and dated by the artist.

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Brief description
Watercolour, Devil's Bridge, Cardigan' by John Sell Cotman, 1801.
Physical description
Watercolour on paper entitled 'Devil's Bridge, Cardigan'. Signed and dated by the artist.
  • Height: 10.875in
  • Width: 7.25in
Marks and inscriptions
J. S. Cotman 1801 (Signed and dated)
Credit line
Given under the terms of the will of the late Sydney D. Kitson
Object history
Bequeathed by Sydney D. Kitson

Historical Significance:

English painter and etcher. The son of a Norwich hairdresser and haberdasher, Cotman received his early education at the local Gammar school as a ‘freeplacer’. He moved to London in 1798, where he was employed as an assistant to the publisher Rudolph Ackermann. The following year he joined Dr Monro’s ‘Academy’, which had previously been frequented by the watercolour artists J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Girtin. Between 1800 and 1805 he made a number of sketching tours in England and Wales. Theses were to have a profound influence on his subsequent work. In 1806 he returned to Norwich, where he established a ‘School for Drawing and Design’. Three years later he opened a circulating library of drawings for pupils to copy and learn the ‘Cotman’ style. Two of his children, Ann *1812-62) and Miles Edmund (1810-58), would later supply drawings for his pupils to copy. In 1810 he was elected vice-president of the Norwich Society of Artists and its president the following year. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1800 and 1806 and at the Associated Artists in Watercolours and British Institution in 1810.

Signed and dated, this watercolour was made the year following Cotman’s first trip to Wales and before his second visit in 1802. In June 1800 Cotman travelled from Bristol into Wales in search of picturesque subjects. The mountainous landscape of Wales had an immense effect on his work. This watercolour shows Devil’s Bridge, which spans the Mynach, a tributary of the Rheidol in Ceredigion in mid-west Wales. The bridge is at the point where the river Mynach drops 90 feet in 5 steps. According to legend the original bridge was built by the Devil as it was too difficult for a mortal to build. The later bridge, was built in 1757 above the earlier bridge (1075-1200) when it was believed to no longer be stable, thus creating a double bridge. A third bridge was added above that of 1757 in 1901.

The portrait format emphasises the dramatic form of the double bridge and depth of the gorge. The bridge is shown in the background behind a tracery of trees. The gnarled forms of the branches and the palette combine to create an almost mystical image.
Subject depicted
Places depicted
Bibliographic references
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design & Department of Paintings, Accessions 1939, published under the Authority of the Ministry of Education, London, 1950
  • Evans, Mark et al. Vikutoria & Arubāto Bijutsukan-zō : eikoku romanshugi kaigaten = The Romantic tradition in British painting, 1800-1950 : masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Japan : Brain Trust, 2002
Accession number

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Record createdJune 30, 2009
Record URL
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