By Jemima Laing
Crossing The Brook was painted by Turner in 1815
"I have never seen so many natural beauties in such a limited spot as I have seen here."
Those are the words artist JMW Turner used to describe his time spent in the Tamar Valley at the start of the 19th century.
And it is a view shared by Dorothy Kirk and Diana Cook who have written a new book called Turner in the Tamar Valley.
The book, which is published at the end of November 2009, is the fruits of a decade of their research.
And Dorothy admits tracing the provenance of one Turner work in particular, Crossing The Brook, has become a bit of an obsession.
"It started as a project to create a sort of Turner trail which had to be jettisoned but then we wrote the book instead," she explained.
"The painting looks down, from high on the Devon bank of the Tamar, towards Gunnislake Newbridge, and, on the Cornish bank of the Tamar, some of the buildings of the industrial scene in Gunnislake at the time of Turner's visit in 1813," said Dorothy.
This gatepost features in the painting
"Beyond Gunnislake, Calstock Church stands proud on the ridge and beyond this and to the right there is a quick vertical smudge representing Prospect Tower, in the grounds of Cotehele house. On the far horizon you can see Plymouth Sound."
To celebrate the launch of the book a month-long exhibition begins on 26 November 2009 at the Tamar Valley Centre.
The exhibition will show visitors where Turner sketched in the Tamar Valley, including Cotehele, Calstock, Morwellham, Weir Head, Gunnislake and Endsleigh.
And work by local artists from the Drawn to the Valley group will also be displayed from a recent event where they had the opportunity to sketch in the landscape where Turner once stood.
The industrial scene and canal scheme in the area are also highlighted in the book, as well as the frustrations felt and false trails unearthed by Dorothy and Diana as they compiled their research.
"People said that Crossing the Brook was an imaginary landscape but everyone in Gunnislake knew that it was Newbridge," said Dorothy.
So Dorothy and Diana have spent the past decade backing up that assertion through their research, such as identifying the gatepost depicted in Turner's work .
"The gatepost first suggested to us that Turner painted what he saw and it's still there as you enter Cornwall from Devon."
The painting - which is 193cm high and 165cm wide - is in The Clore Gallery at Tate Britain and Turner made the sketches for it when he came to the South West.
The painter is known to have travelled to the South West three times during his career, in 1811, 1813 and 1814.
A contemporary aerial view of Gunnislake Newbridge
During his visits he made a number of sketches which he continued to use late into his career.
"The strange thing is that we set out to tell other people something and what happened was that Turner's painting taught us so much about our home," said Dorothy who has lived in Gunnislake "forever".
"The book takes you into the painting and back again," explained Dorothy.
"It made my hair stand on end when I walked along the banks of the Tamar with the sketches and I could really say 'I'm walking in Turner's footsteps - I'm looking at what he looked at'. We are walking in the same space just not at the same time."
"I got a real feel for the man too. And when we were able to look at his sketchbooks when they were on display in Plymouth I had an overwhelming feeling of my fingerprints mingling with his."
And she says that when she sees the painting in the Tate she feels immense pride.
"When people from all over the world are looking at it in Tate Britain, I want to tell them all 'that's where I live'!
"I sort of swell with pride."
She is also thrilled with the way the book has turned out.
"I think we've rewritten a bit of art history," she said.
"It's been like being detectives and the message is that , far from being some kind of Italianate fantasy, Crossing The Brook proves that when Turner wanted to prove for all time his mastery of landscape painting he came to the Tamar Valley to do it. "
And Turner is also at the heart of what Dorothy hopes to do next; once again she is being inspired by Turner's extensive travels in the South West which took in Okehampton, Torbay and Plymouth.
"I'm already thinking about the next thing," she laughed.
"I've got my eye on Plymouth."
Turner in the Tamar Valley published by Tamar Valley AONB and priced at £9.95, will be available from the Tamar Valley Centre and local bookshops from the end of November 2009.