Following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the continent of Europe gradually opened up to British Travellers. Apart from the brief peace of Amiens in 1802 it had been closed by the Napoleonic Wars during Turner’s entire career. He would have liked to go to Italy, but was prevented from going abroad at all in 1816 by his Yorkshire work. In 1817 he found a brief window of opportunity. The field of Waterloo had become every traveller’s top priority, so Turner decided to head first for Belgium and then to see the Rhine.
The principal modern published accounts of the tour are those by Cecilia Powell in ‘Turner’s Rivers of Europe’ (Tate 1991) and ‘Turner in Germany’ (Tate 1995). Turner himself left us a dated record of his itinerary:
He left London on Sunday 10 August and took a ferry to Ostend. From there he travelled via Bruges and Ghent to Brussels, from where he visited the field of Waterloo. From there he headed for Cologne, and then made a tour of the Rhine as far as Mainz. He spent a week travelling down to Mainz, and then three days returning to Cologne, before heading home via Aachen and Antwerp to Rotterdam and The Hague, returning to England, presumably, from Rotterdam.
He used four sketchbooks on the tour, one small pocket book, the Itinerary Rhine sketchbook (TB CLIX),
a small sketch book, the Waterloo and Rhine sketchbook (TB CLX),
a larger sketch book, the Rhine sketchbook (TB CLXI),
and finally a second small sketch book, the Dort sketchbook, (TB CLXII).
These were first dated and catalogued by A.J.Finberg in the ‘Complete Inventory of the Turner Bequest’ (National Gallery, 1909). Cecilia Powell systematically recatalogued all the Belgian and Dutch subjects in ‘Turner’s Rivers of Europe’. This 1817 Rhine sketchbooks yet remain to be updated in the Tate’s new online catalogue of the Turner Bequest, but Powell’s work is incorporated into the existing Tate catalogue entries.
The principal results of the tour include the celebrated Rhine series of fifty-one watercolours bought by Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, and the major oil paintings of the Field of Waterloo (exh RA 1818, Tate, Turner Bequest), the Dort, or Dordrecht Packet-Boat Becalmed (exh R.A 1818; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA) and the Entrance to the Meuse: Orange Merchantman at the Bar [etc] (exh R.A. 1819; Tate, Turner Bequest). There are a few watercolours evidently made, or at least begun, with an engraved series in mind, and Turner returned to his 1817 sketchbooks in the 1830s for subjects to illustrate the works of Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Thomas Campbell.
DH July 2020