Rolandswerth, Nunnery and Drachenfels, on the river Rhine, Germany, 1817

Watercolour on white wove paper prepared with a wash of grey, 7 3/4 x 12 1/8 ins, 195 x 303 mm.

Private Collection

Turner catalogues: Wilton 666; tdb798

This is a medium-sized watercolour of a landscape scene, looking along a river flowing between castellated hills. In the centre is a promontory or island with a cluster of buildings topped by a small spire. In the left foreground is a substantial sailing barge being man-hauled towards us, presumably against the current, and in the right foreground is a cabin boat drifting with the stream.

Rolandswerth Nunnery and Drachenfels, 1817
Private Collection

The subject is the river Rhine looking downstream with the ruins of Rolandseck to the left, Nonnenwerth Island and convent in the centre and the castle-topped Drachenfels towards the right. The site is a few miles south of the city of Bonn.

Photograph by David Hill, April 2006

The general scene is recognisable today, except for the fact that the view of the nunnery on the island is obscured by trees.

The watercolour is one of a celebrated series of fifty-one watercolours of Rhine subjects bought by Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall Yorkshire. According to the story given by Walter Thornbury, Turner returned from his tour of 1817, went direct to Farnley and pulled out a roll of coloured sketches made on the Rhine. Fawkes bought the lot, and Turner mounted them in an album for his host.

Modern scholars, most notably Cecilia Powell, have dismantled this story. The context is more fully explored in the introduction to the 1817 tour, and it is possible that there is room for further debate. In any case, the present watercolour offers a significant contribution to the discussion.

Image courtesy of Tate, D12863

Powell 1991 identifies the basis as TB CLX 83r (repr. p.94) and notes that the spire of the nunnery is set against the sky, as if seen from mid-river. Were it not for the trees it might just be possible to set the spire against the sky from the left bank, but it is not possible to obtain a clear line of sight of the Drachenfels along the river except from mid-stream.

Line of sight Drachenfels and Nonnenwerth

Thus the compelling inference must be that the sketch was made from a boat as Turner sailed downstream, and the watercolour was made from the sketch. Powell 1990 thus suggests that the foreground [setting the viewpoint on the left bank] must have been invented for the watercolour.

The watercolour records the same material as another from the 1817 series at the Courtauld Institute, London, but here taken from further upstream. Turner returned to this same material in two later watercolours. The first is at Manchester City Art Gallery and was made c.1832 to illustrate ‘Finden’s Landscape Illustrations to the ‘Life and Works of Lord Byron’. The second is at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, and was painted c.1835 to Illustrate the poems of Thomas Campbell

Wilton 1979 mistakenly says that Agnew’s bought the watercolour from Currie’s executors, but since he did not die until 1909 that conflicts with date of 1907. It was probably one of the four watercolours exchanged for Brunnen in 1907.

DH July 2020


Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire (d.1825) and by descent to
Revd. Ayscough Fawkes (1889) to
Christie’s 27 June 1890 (31), bt.
Sir Donald Currie (1902) d.1909 from whom bt. 1907 by
Agnew’s (1908) and so to
C Morland Agnew,
Hugh L Agnew and by descent to
Private Collection (1979, 1980, 1995, 2000).

References and Exhibitions:

Exh RA 1889 no.68 lent by Ayscough Fawkes;
Armstrong 1902, p.274 as “Rolandswerth” 1819. [Sir Donald Currie, G.C.M.G., ex Farnley Collection. Chr. 1890, Fawkes.] 7 3/4 x 12 1/8. Island with convent seen from shore. Figures towing boats to left. Dark drawing with cloudy sky. Chiefly body-colour, on ‘stained’ paper;
Exh Agnew’s 1908 no.12;
Exh Agnew’s Manchester 1909 no.117; Finberg 1912, no.70;
Finberg 1919 pp. 9-10, pl.IX;
Exh Agnew’s 1919 no. 35;
Exh Agnew’s 1951 no.51;
Exh King’s Lynn, 1957 no.7;
Exh Agnew’s 1967 no.52;
Wilton 1979, No.666 as ‘Rolandswerth, Nunnery and Drachenfels, 1817’, repro b/w; Exh
Exh York 1980 no.104 as ‘Rolandswerth, Nunnery and Drachenfels’ repr b/w;
Exh Cologne 1980 no.6 as Rolandseck, Kloster Nonnenwerth und Drachenfels (Rolandswerth Nunnery with Drachenfels), 1817′, repr b/w as private collection;
Exh Tate 1991 [Powell 1991] Turner’s Rivers of Europe, no.4 as Rolandswerth Nunnery and Drachenfels’, repr colour;
Exh: Tate 1995 [Powell 1995], Turner in Germany no.10 as ‘Rolandswerth, Nunnery and Drachenfels’, repr colour;
Exh RA 2000, no.39 as ‘Rolandswerth Nunnery and Drachenfels, 1817’, repr colour;

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