JMW Turner painting 1795

JMW Turner painting 1795

If you’ve downloaded this page by scanning the QR codes, you’re standing roughly where the great English artist JMW Turner created this watercolour sketch of Cardiff Bridge in 1795.

Turner painting of Cardiff bridge
Turner's painting of the new Cardiff bridge under construction in 1795
© Tate, London 2013

The detail in the image provides a fascinating record of this part of Cardiff before the invention of photography. One of the most obvious changes is that there’s no longer a bridge over the Taff just to the north of here. The one which Turner sketched – still under construction at the time – was damaged by the river in 1827. The bridge which now carries Castle Street over the Taff was built downstream of the site of the previous one in 1859, a decade after IK Brunel diverted the river to provide a suitable site for what is now Cardiff Central rail station.

Part of the eastern abutment of the 1795 bridge can still be seen near the landing stage in Bute Park (where you can scan another HistoryPoints QR code for more information). Turner’s painting shows numerous buildings in what is now Bute Park, as explained on this page in our Bute Park Tour.

Joseph William Mallord Turner toured South Wales in summer 1795, sketching many of the region’s best-known landscapes and ruins. According to the Tate Gallery, many of the drawings he made on that tour display a more refined and intricate pencil technique than in his previous work. This was “designed to record as much detail as possible”.

Turner also set out to record some of the changes which were occurring rapidly in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. In the watercolour of Cardiff Bridge, the workmen and part-finished bridge symbolise progress while the past is represented by the old timbers and boats and by the castle.

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