The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, with the support of the Arts Council England V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, has acquired a stunning late 18th century line and wash drawing of the Iron Bridge.
This drawing of the world famous Iron Bridge is especially significant due to its very early date of 1780-1782 and also because it was widely reproduced. The Museum’s research suggests that prints of the original picture were highly prized and collected by such important historical figures as King George III and Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America.
The drawing was made by Edward Edgcombe (1756-1822), a Tewksbury-based architect who moved to Ellesmere in Shropshire. Elements of the drawing, such as the bridge itself, appear to have been drawn in situ by the banks of the River Severn; whilst other aspects may have been completed in the artist’s studio, potentially by another hand.
Careful examination of the picture’s mount has revealed that it is made up of many layers of official French documents, which supports the Museum’s theory that the Edgcombe drawing made its way to France shortly after its creation.
Records show that Thomas Jefferson, whilst attached to the Court of Louis XVI, bought several images of the Iron Bridge during a visit to London in spring 1786. While at least one of these images returned to America with Jefferson, the fate of the others is as yet unknown. Further research is now being undertaken by the Museum with Jefferson’s home Monticello in Virginia to gain a greater understanding of Jefferson’s interest in the Iron Bridge and the pictures of it that he purchased.
Dr Matt Thompson, Director of Collections and Learning, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, commented: “It is wonderful that this highly significant drawing has now been secured by the Museum. Today it is very easy to see the Iron Bridge as a symbol of times past, but it is vital to remember that, when first built, it represented all that was new and modern in the world. As Jefferson had a keen interest in science, architecture and innovation it should come as no surprise that he was fascinated by the Iron Bridge and all that it represented.”
The drawing will be on display in Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron throughout July.