This article offers a new identification for a watercolour exhibited in the recent ‘Turner et la Couleur’ exhibition at the Hotel de Caumont, Aix en Provence 4 May – 18 September 2016 and afterwards in ‘J M W Turner: Adventures in Colour’ at Turner Contemporary, Margate, 8 October 2016 – 8 January 2017. Its title at the exhibition was ‘River Scene: Moonight (formerly called Rolandseck)’. It was lent from a private collection and it is possibly the first time (at least in my experience) that it has been exhibited.
The subject can here be identified as a view of The Castle of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine from Neuendorf, with the church of St Peter in the foreground. St Peter’s has been completely transformed since Turner’s time. The gothic-style hall that he saw was begun in 1723, but completely rebuilt on its north side in 1913, enlarging the floor area to three times the original size and adding a large neo-Baroque tower. Besides the redevelopment of the church, the riverbanks have been reclaimed and built upon, so that Turner’s exact viewpoint is now under houses. The wisdom of building on the waterline has been severely tested by floods over the years to the extent that major works took place on the shore recently to build flood defences.
Despite having lunch in a restaurant very close to the church on a cycle tour from Mainz to Bonn in 2006, I am disappointed to discover that I appear to have taken no photographs. All I can imagine that my companions diverted me from Turner duty with bonhomie, beers and fine German fare. Well perhaps in truth not so much of the bonhomie. Still, I would look forward to an opportunity to return one day. Luckily for our immediate purposes the construction company that built the flood defences have a very close comparison on their web report of the project.
The photograph offers exactly the same profile of Ehrenbreitstein, though is taken from too low an angle for us to see more than a hint of the more distant profiles. In the watercolour, however, we can see beyond the church to the bridge of boats at Koblenz and the towers and spires of Koblenz’s churches to the right. Another photograph by Thomas Kovacs has been posted by the photographer to Panoramio. It is worth clicking on the link below (and then using your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this site) for apart from his being a rather beautiful picture, it shows the church of Neuendorf in telephoto relation to the spires and towers of Koblenz: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/91522597?source=wapi&referrer=kh.google.com#
My identification of the watercolour is in fact more of a re-identification. In 1902 Sir Walter Armstrong produced the first comprehensive list of Turner’s watercolours including one, on p.252 given as “Ehrenbreitstein” 1835-40. [J P Heseltine, Esq.] 8 1/2 x 11. Church on low promontory of river, across which rises the Castle bluff. Late blue sketch on white paper’. This is otherwise unaccounted for today, but was listed by Andrew Wilton in his 1979 catalogue of the Turner’s watercolours as no.1320 ‘(?) Ehrenbreitstein c.1840. Watercolour 229 x 280 (sight). Prov: J P Heseltine; Sotheby 28 June 1944, bt Willoughby; Sir Thomas Barlow. Coll; untraced [not reproduced].’ According to Ian Warrell in the Aix en Provence catalogue (no.105) the watercolour had at some stage acquired the identification of Rolandseck, which is some way further down the Rhine, but this was discounted by Warrell in favour of the generic ‘River Scene: Moonlight’.
Given my avowed interest in Turner’s observations from nature, the effect and time of day is perhaps worth a little consideration. The view looks almost due south and although conditions are blue and bosky, the landscape is suffused with misty light. The church is lamp black in the foreground before the ultramarine bluff of Ehrenbreitstein. The castle is contre-jour against a distinct lightening of the sky from the distant left. The source catches the high cirrus brightly in mackerel flecks and bars, whilst warming the right hand side of the picture. Rather than moonlight (and regular readers will know that I am generally keen to prove a moonlight!) this seems to me much more the effect of dawn. The lamp black foreground splendidly transmitting the still chilled riverside, in the deep shade of the eastern bank of the river, before any of the coming light has yet touched it. In the right foreground already on river boatman is abroad, another lucky witness to the brilliance of the early hour.
There are some sketches in the Turner Bequest that record Ehrenbreitstein from a similar angle, but only one of the identified subjects comes at all close to the present subject. This is a three-part sketch of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine, with the castle in the top (left) register, the towers of Koblenz to the right in the second register, and the apse of St Peter’s church, Neuendorf closing the scene in the third (extreme right) register. The present watercolour revisits almost the exact viewpoint of the sketch, but belongs to a visit in the early 1840s, when Turner passed through Koblenz on several occasions, whilst journeying up or down the Rhine by steamboat on his way to Switzerland and the Alps during successive tours 1840-44.
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J M W Turner Koblenz, Germany, 1842 Watercolour, 303 x 467 mm USA, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, 1956.112 Photograph courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum
Mosel Bridge, Koblenz, sunset Photograph taken by David Hill, 2001
Earlier articles on SublimeSites.co have considered his work at Heidelberg in this period, but the present subject seems to stand as a foil to a study of the Mosel Bridge, Koblenz, with Ehrenbreitstein beyond, Sunset (Tate CCCLXIV 286; D36139) which in turn formed the basis of a finished watercolour of 1842 at Cincinnati Art Museum. The latter was thought by many to be a copy of a lost Turner, and reproduced as such by Ian Warrell in ‘Through Switzerland with Turner’ (Tate, 1995, p.43). I was lucky to see the watercolour on a trip to Cincinnati in 2001, and was straight away convinced that it could only be by Turner. I was not the first to think so. Eric Shanes had left a note in the Museum files to that effect. I wrote a long note to Cincinnati making the case for its authenticity, and rather disappointingly never even received so much as an acknowledgement. So shortly afterwards I sent the material to Andrew Wilton and he included it in his exhibition ‘Turner, Licht und Farbe’, no.178, with a note accepting it as the original.
Images best viewed full-size. Click on image to enlarge:
To return to the present example, it seems plain that on his tours of the 1840s (and earlier, as I have contended elsewhere) Turner devoted himself to recording hundreds of extremely particular effects directly in watercolour. Quite what the occasion of the present subject could have been, however, requires a little speculation. Turner passed through Koblenz on most of his visits to the Alps in the 1840s, but stylistic features – particularly the handling of the sky – compare closely with the Mosel Bridge sketch and watercolour suggesting a date of date of 1840 or 1841.
Turner would have stayed in Koblenz and Neuendorf is no more than a decent walk away from the city centre, but it seems unlikely that even he would have got up before dawn to walk out here on the off chance that the effect might have been worth seeing. We know that Turner passed through Koblenz on his way home from Venice in late September 1840. In the present composition we are looking due south and on 27 September (for example) the sun first broaches the horizon slightly behind us to the left at 05.45 GMT, and in the watercolour it does appear as if the first rays are catching the boatman at the bottom right corner of the composition. So what might have been the precise circumstances of the watercolour? The steamboat for Cologne and all stops downstream on his way back to London would presumably have left Koblenz at first light, so here is Turner, just embarked, out on deck to witness the sun coming up as his boat slips away downstream. Under such circumstances he might easily have begun the watercolour direct from nature, and had the time, leisure and circumstances in which to carry it to a reasonable degree of elaboration as the journey unfolded.
This post continues the series begun on 19 October 2015 and continued on 18, 20 and 23 November 2015. In part #1, I followed in the footsteps of Turner’s comprehensive exploration of Heidelberg in 1833. In part #2, I looked at a major finished watercolour that he developed in the early 1840s, and a return visit to Heidelberg at the same time. In part #3 I looked at the deepening sublimity of his treatment of the site in three colour studies and a second major watercolour of c.1842. In part #4 I followed in the footsteps of Turner’s last visit to Heidelberg in 1844 when he made some new pencil sketches and a wonderful series of colour studies. In this part I consider a watercolour at the National Gallery of Scotland on the occasion of its annual exhibition in January.
This was called ‘Heidelberg’ when given to the gallery by Henry Vaughan in 1900, but nothing appears to be known about its history prior to that. It is a version of the view from the banks of the Neckar up to the bridge, castle and town that he developed in the two watercolours discussed in part #2 and part #3 made c.1842 (USA, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, Minnesota, and Manchester City Art Gallery).
J M W Turner Heidelberg, c.1842 Watercolour, 374 x 553 mm Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Vaughan Bequest, D NG 885 This watercolour was bequeathed to the National Gallery of Scotland in 1900 by the collector Henry Vaughan. We know almost nothing about its prior history. One condition of Vaughan’s Bequest is that the watercolours never be lent and only be shown in January. The current consensus dates it to about 1846, but I propose an earlier date in what follows below. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Scotland.
J M W Turner Heidelberg with a Rainbow, c.1842 Watercolour, 311 x 521 mm, 12 1/4 x 20 1/2 ins USA, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona, Minnesota. This watercolour was commissioned from Turner in 1840 by the engraver Thomas Abel Prior. He published a large engraving of the image in 1846. The watercolour fetched a world record for a watercolour by the artist at auction when it was sold by Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2013 lot 101 for $4,562,500. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s. To view this image on Sotheby’s website click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page.
J M W Turner Heidelberg: Sunset, c.1842 Watercolour, 380 x 552 mm, 14 1/2 x 21 1/8 ins Manchester, City Art Gallery (1917.106) This watercolour seems to have been painted as a pair to that made for Thomas Abel Prior. Photo courtesy of Manchester City Art Gallery To view this image on Manchester City Art Gallery’s website click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/search/collection/?id=1917.106
To be precise it echoes the general composition of the Minnesota and Manchester watercolours. That is, it has a long bridge, an illuminated hillside and a church tower in the same relationship, but whilst there are obvious and specific correlations between the others and Heidelberg, the Edinburgh watercolour has fewer.
To take the bridge to start with:
Heidelberg Bridge has five central arches flanked by two arches descending at either end. It has huge statues on the second pier from either end. It has two great onion-domed gate towers at its right end. It is massively built from red sandstone. The Minnesota watercolour takes liberties with the colour, but renders the form pretty well. The Manchester Bridge has the general form, but reduces the mass. The bridge in the Edinburgh watercolour has few of those particularities: The arches answer only in number, and perhaps there is a hint of some diminutive gate towers towards the right.
And then there is the town and church:
Heidelberg bridge and Heiliggeistkirche Photograph taken by David Hill 25 August 2015, 19.02 GMT
Minnesota watercolour – detail of bridge and church
Manchester watercolour – detail of bridge and church
National Gallery of Scotland watercolour detail of bridge and church
The Heiliggeistkirche has an elaborate, staged tower crowned with a lantern and cupola and stands in near relation to the bridge towers. The tower is at the right end of a large, steeply pitched nave roof. The Minnesota and Manchester watercolour both take some trouble over this, and although the Manchester version is attenuated and slightly bleached of detail, it remains in some recognisable relation to the reality. The Edinburgh version is merely generic, much further away from the bridge, such a cipher that it might better stand for a plain medieval watch tower than a complicated baroque confection.
As for the castle…
Turner had recorded the castle from every angle, near and far, and it was his special skill to build up a rotational understanding of the form and geography of his subjects. Readers who have followed this series will know (and perhaps regret) that his exploration was exhaustive. Readers may also remember that Turner wherever possible based his artistic imperatives on the basis of sure geographical understanding. The treatment of the castle in the Minnesota watercolour is diligently recognisable. The detail is evacuated a little in the Manchester version, but in the Edinburgh version it is hard to say even where, let alone of what form, the castle might be. There are suggestions of form exploded all over the hillside, mostly scattered along the crest. As all the other depictions show, the castle is well below the skyline. The treatment here is so uncharacteristic as to make one wonder whether it can be meant for Heidelberg at all.
Comparison with the Manchester version, however, does settle that question convincingly, for the key repetition is that of the shadow running diagonally across the hillside above the bridge. As I explored in part #3 that is the shadow of the Michaelsberg (behind and to our left) that is characteristically cast by the setting sun.
That being the case, we ought to give some thought to the phenomenal effect, for knowledge of such things, as we have observed here at some length (and Ruskin devoted a lifetime to adumbrating) were Turner’s unrivalled strength.
When the watercolour was first catalogued by Sir Walter Armstrong in 1902 it was listed as ‘Heidelberg – Morning’. The presence of the shadow and the highlights on the tower to the right (its shaded side is to the left), the hillside where the castle should be, and the bits of buildings highlighted such as they are, set the time of day as towards sunset.
To be consistent then, the light down the valley, would have to be intended for the moon, but it is plainly far brighter than any moonrise could ever be. For the moon to have such relative luminosity, it would have to be some considerable while after sunset and the sky be fully dark in the east. This event, however, is positively blinding. Much, more, as Armstrong rightly inferred, like the sunrise. Nor, indeed is there anything inherently implausible in casting the scene as a sunrise, for the sun does pass through this part of the sky right through the summer, and at the time of Turner’s visit 24-27 August 1844 would have been in this position just before 6 o clock in the morning (GMT).
So the problem is that whilst there are elements of sunset that echo with those of the Manchester watercolour, the principal phenomenal effect appears to be that of sunrise. It really doesn’t seem at all satisfactory to say that Turner got himself confused, or didn’t care, or indeed that it doesn’t matter.
Just as an aside it is worth quoting just a couple of recent commentaries. Both read it as a sunset;
The first is from an online review of the annual exhibition of the Vaughan Bequest Turners at the National Gallery of Scotland:
‘Turner never travelled beyond Europe and he didn’t need to. There was already enough inspiration in the places he managed to visit. ‘Heidelberg’ (below) is one of the largest ‘Vaughan Turners’ in Edinburgh and it is also one of the best. Depicting the ancient town and castle, Turner produces something stunning and mystical; the powerful setting sun makes it a picture of sheer beauty.’
The second, from Christopher Baker’s authoritative catalogue, J.M.W.Turner: The Vaughan Bequest (NGS 2008) contends that the topography is deliberately and positively vague. This is even more oppositional to my trend. It implies that topographical content is a relative immaturity; and that Turner was transcending such matters in this picture:
‘This watercolour, which probably dates from about 1846, is one of the finest of all the artist’s late works. Here he has moved far beyond a concern for topographical accuracy and created a glowing, almost hallucinatory image. The figures in the foreground dissolve into their surroundings, and the depiction of light from the setting sun, as it glances across and gilds the high, thin clouds, is especially masterly.’
Such things plainly did matter to Turner. He knew more about topographical and phenomenal effect than anyone who ever lived, saw more of such things than most, and had a visual perception more sensitive, more visually intelligent and more profound than any artist before or since. The problem is how might the contradictions be reconciled?
The watercolour is now generally said to date from about 1846, towards the end of Turner’s life when he was no longer able to travel (his last tour abroad was in 1845). The telos of the National Gallery of Scotland commentary is that in Turner’s late phase he entered a state of grace free of the trammels and ties of topography and embraced a sublime without worldly co-ordinates.
It’s a grand myth but few human beings have ever been more gargantuanly engrossed in being in the world than was Turner. His was never a prosaic perception but only rarely was it fantastic. He generally only allowed himself to imagine outside the frame of geography when it was so licensed by poetry or literature. Even then his sense of things was informed by experience, and by a desire to paint with a better knowledge of the way things are than any of his predecessors. The last five years of his life are indeed a zone in which the direct light of new experience was denied him, but no-one ever sought to recouperate that light so fiercely.
In truth there might be a slightly less sublime way of resolving the issues with the Edinburgh Heidelberg. In looking at it again this January, I was struck by how controlled and fine is the handling, despite its degree of unfinish. It lacks any of the waning but beautiful painterliness that characterises his work from 1846 onwards. In fact it compares for control, so far as it has progressed, particularly well with the Manchester watercolour. The closest comparison, however, that most readily comes to my mind is with a watercolour of Coblenz at Cincinnati Art Museum.
This is one of a set of ten ‘Swiss’ watercolours that Turner made in the late spring/early summer of 1842, before going off on his summer tour to the Alps. The sky is particularly close, as is the intensely illuminated hillside.
In fact the more I have worked through the comparisons, the more closely the Edinburgh Heidelberg begins to align itself with the Minnesota and Manchester watercolours, particularly the latter. In many ways it might even stand between them, and be a rehearsal for the Manchester watercolour. One even begins to be able to imagine that one can see placeholders in the Edinburgh watercolour for the details of the bridge, towers, castle, town and church that might have followed. It may even be that Turner started off the Edinburgh watercolour with the idea of it being a sunrise, and then thought that the better effect would be that of moonrise. That the Michaelsberg shadow remains an inconsistency may in the end testify only to the process of him evolving his ideas upon the sheet.
In part #3 of this series I suggested that the Manchester watercolour might have been made in association with the ten ‘Swiss’ subjects. To recap, Turner made four finished watercolours and showed these, along with up to twenty unfinished sample studies that patrons might commission finished subjects from. Although the National Gallery of Scotland Heidelberg is larger than any of the known sample studies, it sits stylistically well alongside them and their finished counterparts and looks best assigned to that period, even if not directly implicated in that project.
We cannot leave this subject, however, without considering the activity in the foreground. It is one inevitable consequence of the National Gallery of Scotland not lending their Vaughan Bequest watercolours that the watercolour has received very little scholarly commentary. So despite the thousands of eyes that must have gazed upon it, no-one seems ever to have publically questioned what is going on in the foreground.
Only one occasion comes to hand. When Sir Walter Armstrong listed it in 1902 he described it as: ‘”Heidelberg-Morning” Circa 1840. [Nat. Gal. Of Scotland. Vaughan Bequest, 1900.] 14 3/4 x 21 3/4. Looking up the Neckar from north bank. Women washing, and boats. Sun rising over bridge. Castle in mist on right. Gorgeous sky.’
Nonetheless ‘‘Women washing, and boats’ seems hardly to begin to unpack whatever is going on here. In the foreground is a great sprawling shape, evidently floating, or at least a little way from the bank. It may be several boats – to the left is what appears to be a cabin or canopy at the stern of some kind of vessel, but where it ends, or what shape it might be, is unfathomable. There may be several boats drawn together, but whatever the case the edge of this floating mass is lined by women reaching down to the water. At the far side it is plain that they are all facing away on hands and knees. There is enough detail to see that these are generally young and unbonneted. We cannot, however, quite make out what it is that they are handling in the water.
They all appear to grasp something with both hands – one on the front row towards the right has hold of a rectangular shape. It seems remarkable that they are all engaged in reaching down in unison, which suggests that they are working co-operatively, and perhaps even all managing one large entity. There seems to be some blue and white striped fabric involved in all this. Tongue lickings of it at the bottom right, and hinted at again towards the left.
The women are all at the edge of a space, but of such a shape as to make a very unlikely boat. Perhaps it is more than one boat, but if so that is just as difficult to construe. Under the cabin or canopy to the left, however, are seated two figures, only roughly defined, but even so apparently dressed in bulkier clothes, that to the left male, that to the right female, and playing no part in the activity, except to oversee it. ‘Woman washing’ maybe, but on an epic scale; a veritable Aida amongst laundrettes.
There are figures on the bank to the left, which ought equally to be considered.
In background is a boat, high up above the waterline, and various timbers, possibly a makeshift boatyard, and in the foreground there is a group of figures on the riverbank, including one male figure, dressed not dissimilarly to the University students seen in the Minnesota and Manchester watercolours, with two women in the foreground, one reaching down to the water, a child standing back from the water, and even what appears to be a small dog. It may be that there are indications of other figures stretching back along the shore, and a rope trailing in the water from the stern of the boat canopy towards the shore.
Who knows what might be going on here? There is no hint of such a motif in any of Turner sketches of Heidelberg, nor indeed in any of the sketchbooks in which occur sketches of Heidelberg. All the same one cannot help feeling that this is something that Turner witnessed on his travels and recorded somewhere. I have made a brief trawl through such references to Heidelberg as I can quickly scan, but find nothing comparable in any other images. I will make some enquires of Heidelberg Museum, and report anything they might tell me. In the meantime my readers, small group as you may yet be, I will be glad to publish any constructive suggestions or that you might care to make through the comments section below.
This looks like a good place to post this as a self-contained section, while any of you within striking distance of Edinburgh before the end of January can go along to the National Gallery of Scotland and see (free!) the Heidelberg amongst the other Vaughan Bequest watercolours, whilst they are still on exhibition.
TO BE CONTINUED
The next instalment should be the last.
Supported by the Pilkington Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation
This post continues the essay begun on 19 October 2015 and continued on 18 November 2015, and 20 November 2015. In part #1, I followed in the footsteps of Turner’s comprehensive exploration of Heidelberg in 1833. In part #2, I looked at a major finished watercolour that he developed in the early 1840s, and a return visit to Heidelberg at the same time. In part #3 I looked at the deepening sublimity of his treatment of the site in three colour studies and a second major watercolour of c.1842. Here I retrace his last visit to Heidelberg in 1844 when he made some new pencil sketches and a wonderful series of colour studies. We know the exact dates of this visit, 24-27 August, so that was my cue for following in Turner’s footsteps on exactly the same dates in 2015.
The occasion of Turner’s 1844 visit to Heidelberg was an extremely wet summer. He spent a few weeks in the Alps around Lucerne and Grindelwald, but was prevented by the weather from crossing any of the high passes south. Eventually, as he said, he gave up, headed back north to the Rhine, got his boots heeled and soled, and spent a few weeks exploring the side valleys, of the Rhine, particularly the Nahe and the Neckar, and much to his delight. Apart from the dates of his stay in Heidelberg, we also know he stayed at the Prinz Carl in the Cornmarket, and a few sketches of the Karlstor, in the On the Neckar sketchbook (Tate, Turner Bequest TB CCCII) , stand at the outset of a walking tour up to Heilbronn and back and the sketchbook is full of animated pencil sketches of Neckar Castles. By this time Turner was also in the habit recording his tours in long series of colour sketches. That of 1844 is no exception and the pencil sketches of the Neckar are accompanied by numerous watercolour studies. It would be wonderful to explore those in Turner’s footsteps but in August I had time only to focus on Heidelberg, and to treat the Neckar in the detail it deserves would be an undertaking of book length.
He was prolific enough in his few days in Heidelberg. His main sequence of pencil sketches is in the CCXCVII Spires & Heidelberg sketchbook. This begins with one fine and composed sketch at Lucerne, but the main sequence consists of very scrappy and mostly unidentified buildings amongst mountains and lakes, presumably in Switzerland. The scrappiness speaks very much of not being unsettled by the weather, and he left several blank pages, which he filled once he retreated north to Heidelberg (and Speyer, which is on the Rhine south of Heidelberg). There is a clutch of sketches of Heidelberg castle from the east and north terrace in the middle of the book, interleaved with drawings of Lucerne. It has to be said that even at Heidelberg Turner’s sketches are rapid and impressionistic, and not at all considered or relaxed. Their style very strongly suggests that he now felt that sketching in pencil was not the primary product of his touring. It was the antenna through which he could derive his sense of a site, but the important work of assimilation was now being invested in colour studies.
His Spires and Heidelberg sketches are exclusively confined to the castle and mostly to the gardens to the east, or the north terrace. His principal interest appears to have been in finding some way of representing the castle by sunset. One sketch (13) from the garden terrace actually shows the sun in the sky, and another from the north terrace (18a) is inscribed ‘the last gleam of sun’.
The major product of Turner’s 1844 stay in Heidelberg was a series of nine colour studies. These originally belonged to a ‘roll’ sketchbook (i.e. one with paper covers that could be rolled up for carrying). Turner used such sketchbooks a great deal in his later career, principally for colour studies. This particular sketchbook is called the ‘Heidelberg’ sketchbook, and was still intact after Turner’s death when it came to the nation as part of the Turner Bequest. Ruskin noted that it was a sketchbook of 24 coloured sketches, including ten of Heidelberg. Sometime afterwards Ruskin mounted many of the best pages for exhibition, but somewhere in that process the original pagination of the book was lost. There are still ten sketches of Heidelberg if we count one that is in pencil on the back of one of the coloured sketches. The book was also used for colour sketches of subjects on the river Neckar, made on a pedestrian tour up to Heilbronn, and also for sketches on the river Nahe, which Turner explored later on the same tour.
The sketches are somewhat variable in style and degrees of elaboration, but all record very specific phenomena, particularly effects of morning and evening. Some are pale and delicate, others warm and glowing. They all, however have a remarkable degree of evanescence. As befits, perhaps a season of rain, they are studies principally of the light and atmosphere through which their subjects are seen.
The first is a rare street scene in the town itself, looking to the castle from the Hauptstrasse from outside the Hotel Ritter (12). Another returns to the subject of the bridge, castle and church, but this time from a new viewpoint going up to the Philosophenweg (17). Three study the castle by sunset, one from the garden terrace (9) and two others from a higher viewpoint, looking over the castle from the south-west (8, 15). Finally four sketches return to viewpoints looking to the castle and town from the riverbanks upstream of the bridge (11, 18, 5, 13). In the first he rose early to see whether the dawn might produce some effect, but towards the end of August the sun is already quite high before it illuminates the castle. The best effects were at sunset and he made three studies at intervals approaching the castle from upstream.
As it transpired, Turner’s continental tour of 1844 was, apart from a short trip to the north French coast in 1845, his last. In his seventieth year something failed, and his mobility and his productivity were curtailed. Every year for the best part of the last twenty years, and at intervals before that, he had documented his travels and observations in extensive series of colour sketches. His studio cupboards and drawers must have been overflowing with them, thousands of coloured sheets, quite apart from the pencil sketches. Amongst them, it must have seemed as if he was simultaneously swept up in blizzard of the most intense and sublime experience, and at the same time irrecoverably alienated.
In the final part of this essay I will look at Turner’s last imaginings of Heidelberg. Before that, however, I have to give some thought to the work I am doing for Leeds Art Gallery in cataloguing their sketches by John Sell Cotman. I hope to post the final part of the present series sometime early in the New Year.
Supported by the Pilkington Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation
On 27 February 2015 I announced that the Pilkington Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation had commissioned a SublimeSites exploration of Turner’s associations with Heidelberg. I promised to visit the site in May but then remembered that Cecilia Powell had discovered in Turner and Germany (1995, p.74) the actual dates on which Turner stayed in Heidelberg in 1844; 24-27 August. It seemed a better plan to visit on the same days in the hope of seeing things in the same light and conditions as had Turner.
Turner came to know the topography of Heidelberg thoroughly. The city is about 90 km south of Frankfurt just where the river Neckar breaks out of the hills into the wide plains of the Rhine valley. The Neckar was an important transit route and the city controlled passage upstream, and its bridge facilitated an important north south road route. It was an important site in Roman times but by the medieval period had become a prosperous city with a large castle. This housed the Palace of the Elector Palatine, a key constituent of the Holy Roman Empire, and reached its apogee in the later Renaissance c.1550-1620 when extensive new apartments and gardens were built. The town and castle were subsequently fairly comprehensively destroyed by the French at the end of the seventeenth century but prosperity returned in the eighteenth century. It had been an important University town since the middle ages, and by Turner’s time was famous throughout Europe.
Turner’s first visit to the city was in 1833. He was fifty-eight, and discovering the city fairly late in his career. He already knew Mosel and the Rhine well, but somehow his routes up and down the Rhine had never before provided the opportunity to stop by. He was, however, at the peak of his powers, and was the probably most practiced and profound assimilator of place in all Europe. It was his routine practice to compass his subject, sketching from every angle so as to be able to build a three-dimensional model of a site in his mind. Even so, Heidelberg prompted extraordinary attention and he took a new sketchbook and stocked it with over fifty individual sketches. A few are extremely painstaking, but most are quite rapid, and he probably spent little more time at each vantage point than I did in photographing the subjects; a few minutes at each, and perhaps an hour at a few, soaking in the details at leisure. On the first evening I took in the views of the bridge, town and castle from across the river, on the second day I explored the castle inside and out, and from the hillsides above and behind, on the third day I made a systematic study of the bridge town and castle from across the river, and on the fourth day I revisited a few of the best sites to try and improve on what I already had, or take in a view under varying conditions. As it Turner out this seems to have more-or-less followed the plan of Turner’s campaign in 1833.
Turner returned to Heidelberg on several occasions. There is evidence of visits in 1840, 1841 and 1844, resulting in two more clutches of pencil sketches and well as several very fine colour studies, and from this material he developed three superb studio watercolours. The original occasion of this article was to explore the topography of an important late painting at the Tate called ‘Heidelberg in the Olden Time’. The topography of this proved to be rather more problematic that I originally suspected. The first part of this article reports my exploration in his 1833 footsteps, when he made a comprehensive circumperambulation of the city, The second part (hopefully, not so far behind) will deal with the finished works, and Turner’s sketches in pencil and watercolour from the 1840s, as well as the Tate painting.
In Turner’s Footsteps at Heidelberg
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Turner made fifty-two sketches in 1833. Most are just rapid jottings but he punctuated his sequences with drawings that carefully captured specific detail, so as to have the material to develop almost any view that he decided upon. All contain enough detail for them for the visitor today to be able to recognise the subjects and Heidelberg (apart from the trees behind the castle!) is sufficiently unchanged for it to be possible to plot the exact viewpoint of every one. It might be worthwhile to create a comprehensive Turner trail around Heidelberg should the opportunity arise.
For now, however, it is time to move on to consider the later work. Suffice it to say that in 1833 Turner comprehensively quartered the city; stocked up views of the main landmarks from every angle, and certainly – considering the main sequences of sketches – laid up material for potential views of the castle from the east. The view from the garden terrace was already popular and well-known, and he looked for something slightly different by exploring the higher slopes. He also marched the whole length of the Neckar shore on the right bank, looking to the old bridge, castle and town from both upstream and down, near and far, and finished off by attempting to find a view that few artists had attempted from the left bank near the Karlstor. One observation that ought to be made at this stage is that the 1833 drawings contain little evidence of atmosphere or effect. He would have learned, however, that the best effects are in the morning and evening. From the Neckar shore the town and castle are contre-jour during most of the day, but in the morning the light slants in attractively from upstream and in the evening the castle gleams brilliantly pink and red. Up at the castle the view from the east is likewise at its best in the morning or at sunset. During the day there might be some possibility of good effects from the slopes above the castle to the south. We might presume that Turner had taken all this in, even if it is not specifically recorded.
TO BE CONTINUED:
Part 2 will consider Turner’s three finished watercolours of Heidelberg, two groups of pencil sketches from the 1840s, and two groups of superb colour studies, as well as the painting at the Tate known as ‘Heidelberg in the Olden Time.’ I thought I had better post what I’ve done thus far, however, and hope it’s not too long before I complete the remainder!
On 10 July 2014 Christie’s in London will sell a Turner watercolour of Binger Loch and Mausethurm (lot 214, estimate £200,000 – 300,000). This is one of a series of fifty-one* watercolours that Turner made in 1817 when he made a tour of the river Rhine between Cologne and Mainz. On Turner’s return the whole series was bought for 500 guineas by the artist’s Yorkshire patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, and celebrated thereafter as a direct and spontaneous encounter with one of the most Romantic areas of all Europe. This article considers the watercolour’s topographical content and the possibility that it might at least have been begun form nature.
The early accounts of the series considered the watercolours to be sketches painted directly from nature. Ruskin said ‘every one… is the almost instantaneous record of an effect of colour or atmosphere, taken strictly from nature, the drawing and the details…being comparatively subordinate’ (note 1). Modern scholarship particularly that of Cecilia Powell, who has treated the tour in detail in her books Turner’s Rivers of Europe (1991) and Turner in Germany (1995) has questioned this. Christie’s catalogue notes review the context and arguments thoroughly drawing on Powell’s work.
The most important objection to the Rhine drawings being sketches from nature is that the watercolours are based upon pencil sketches that Turner made in the bound sketchbooks that Turner had with him. Powell argues that Turner painted the watercolours from these pencil sketches in the autumn of 1817 after his return to England, when he had plenty of time whilst making a tour to County Durham before visiting Farnley Hall (note 2). Powell’s account is detailed and convincing, but begs questions as to why some examples have no relation to pencil sketches, others show significant deviation from their related pencil sketches, and more generally as to why the works have a much more extemporised appearance than his usual studio work – in short they look like sketches – and why in relation to the occasion of their making he would be working on them whilst engaged sketching a completely different landscape, for a completely different project.
Given my avowed primary interest in Turner’s work on site, I do confess to always feeling drawn to the idea of Turner sketching in colour direct from nature. This sometimes in spite of the evidence. Over the last decade or so, however, I have visited and photographed all of Turner’s sites on the Rhine. Most of this was accomplished, I can boast, on a bicycle. The Rhine is splendid cycling terrain, there being a more-or-less dedicated cycling provision along most of its length. A boat might seem more appropriate, but in fact Turner made most of his sketches from the riverside, and the bike, I discovered, had the great advantage (at my rate of propulsion) of going much slower than any boat, so allowed proper time to take things in, and stopped more readily than a boat to allow photographs to be taken. Standing as often as I could on Turner’s exact viewpoints it emerges that the evidence by no means eliminates colouring from the motif. In fact, as at Bingen it suggests a multiplicity of practice. Artists rarely stick to just one method. I remember hearing David Hockney say at the beginning of a recent film that he renounced photography and computing in order to paint direct from nature in Yorkshire. At the end of the film when asked to comment on the fact that he had used cameras, film, computer processing, print and a whole array of practices besides painting, he looked unabashed: ‘Never believe what an artist says; only what they do’ (note 3). In the case of Bingen Turner seems to have done a variety of things, including painting from nature.
Powell’s most developed treatment of this specific subject is in Turner’s Rivers of Europe (1991) where a pencil sketch of the subject (Tate, TB CLX 71v-72r, see repr. above) was exhibited and reproduced as no.2, and the watercolour as no.11, and Powell states that the watercolour was based directly on the sketch. Comparison of sketch and watercolour confirms an obvious relationship, but it is my purpose here to loosen the directness of that relationship, and create some room for the watercolour to at least have been begun from the motif.
Since there will be no disagreement that the pencil sketch was done from nature, let us consider that first. Powell establishes that it was made from a boat on 27 August 1817 as Turner sailed downstream from to Bingen from St Goar. The viewpoint is midstream immediately below Rudesheim, looking west downstream with (from left to right) Burg Klopp, the spire of Bingen Church, the riverside crane of Bingen, the Mausethurm in distant mid-river and Burg Ehrenfels closing the view to the right. Individual buildings have since been restored or rebuilt – Burg Klopp and the Mausethurm particularly, but the positioning of everything in the sketch is perfectly naturalistic and all of the elements are easily identifiable to this day.
There are numerous differences, however, between the sketch and the watercolour. The most obvious and perhaps significant deviation is that the watercolour appears to be taken from a different viewpoint, rather nearer to Burg Ehrenfels. For the castle towers to appear against the sky as in the watercolour, one needs to be nearer the mouth of the river Nahe as in the photograph above. For it to still appear on the shoulder of the curve of that bank, however, one cannot be any further downstream. Even by the time one arrives at the downstream end of Bingen quay, where it meets the Nahe, the castle drops below the horizon of its bank. In fact the view of Ehrenfels shown in the watercolour is exclusive to a line of sight running from Bingen quay a hundred meters or so upstream of the confluence with the Nahe.
It has to be admitted that the comparison also presents difficulties for the plein-air argument. The pencil sketch accurately records Bingen Klopp, Bingen Church and Bingen Crane from its mid-river viewpoint. They are far less accurately depicted in the watercolour, and most problematically of all, the fact that they are included at all is incompatible with the apparent viewpoint on Burg Ehrenfels, since on that line of sight, Bingen and Burg Klopp are out of scope to the left.
The main point of painting from nature would be to record an effect, so it is perhaps worth giving some consideration to that aspect. The watercolour puts the sun to the left, shining brightly on Burg Ehrenfels and its slopes, and illuminating the spire and roof of Bingen Church to the left and the Mausethurm in mid-river. As a perusal of the many photographs of this view on the internet will reveal, the way in which the sun strikes Burg Ehrenfels and its steep vine-clad slopes is one of the site’s distinguishing visual characteristics. Its lack rendered dull my photograph taken in the later afternoon, but brings to life a second photo taken in the morning. The same effect forms the raison d’etre of the watercolour, and Turner has gone to quite some lengths to give the effect of the vines in working up the texture of those sunlight slopes. The most specific phenomenon of all in the watercolour, moreover, is the peculiarly-shaped shadow on the slopes below the castle. This suggests the passing of a cloud, but at the same time does more. Its peculiarity is the product of the two bars at its top right. Comparison with the photographs quite readily suggests their significance; they represent the terraced roadways that cross the slopes, and which characterise the site to this day. There is no sign whatsoever of these in the pencil sketch.
Again some objection to this might be admitted. Turner’s viewpoint here is due west, so the light is to the south. Although the effect is generally consistent with the orientation, the sharpness of the contrast suggests a low angle of incidence more typical of early morning or evening than the middle of the day. It is probably worth noting here that when the watercolour was listed in a manuscript catalogue of the Farnley Hall collection compiled in 1850, it was described as ‘Sketches on the Rhine (in a case) no.9, Bingen Loch & Mausethurm N. 12 3/8 x 8’ (note 4). The list was compiled by the son of Turner’s patron, Francis Hawksworth Fawkes, working presumably from old notes and inscriptions, and was shown to Turner for his approval (note 5). It is perhaps significant that the description assumes that the view was looking to the north. This has a certain logic – the Rhine flows generally to the north, but it twists and turns in this stretch so much that it is easy to confuse one’s bearings. If the mistake originated with Turner, then it would explain him thinking that a low light was appropriate for his highlights.
So whilst there seems to be sufficient observed particularity in the watercolour to suggest that it records some things quite independently of the pencil sketch, there are equally things in it, particularly the whole of the left middle distance comprising of Bingen Klopp and Bingen church, that cannot have been observed from the viewpoint of the watercolour, and must have been brought in from the sketch. Although this is complicated, and perhaps untidily equivocal, it is perhaps inherently more likely than a simple either/or scenario. My surmise from this is that Turner began the watercolour from nature, independently of the sketch, but worked it up later to give it a degree of finish so that it might be made presentable. When this working-up was done is impossible to say. Some work might have been done in his rooms as he progressed along the tour, some back in London, some in County Durham and some even (and perhaps most likely of all) after Fawkes had indicated an interest in the group whilst Turner was staying at Farnley Hall in the Autumn of 1817.
Beyond this point the river narrows to the dangerous passage called the Binger Loch between the Mausethurm and Ehrenfels. This stretch of river was beset by swift currents, jutting rocks and submerged reefs and was one of the most notoriously dangerous stretches of the whole Rhine. The castles of Bingen and Ehrenfels and the Mausethurm had grown up to control the passage, and to provide pilotage and extract tolls. The river was largely unimproved in 1817, remained so until two narrow channels were cleared in the 1830’s, and the main channels not finally cleared until as recently as the 1970s. Powell 1991 (repeated in Christie’s catalogue notes) very well describes how Turner develops this theme by contrasting the light, width and peace of the foreground, with the cold confines of the Loch, presaged by protruding rocks at the left and presided over by the haloed tower of Ehrenfels. The ripples around this rock are brilliantly repeated in the light glittering from the disturbed waters in the distance. It is typical of Turner’s practice that there is such specific and imaginative topographical and phenomenal content in this picture, and indeed in each one of the Rhine series watercolours. We may indeed question some of the details of the story told of the Rhine drawings by Walter Thornbury, but he was was certainly right when he called them ‘miracles of skill, genius and industry’. Further, he added: ‘These Rhenish drawings are most exquisite for sad tenderness, purity, twilight, poetry, truth, and perfection of harmony. They are to the eye what the finest verse of Tennyson are to the ear; and they do what so few things on earth do: they completely satisfy the mind’ (note 6).
I am grateful to Harriet Drummond and Rosy Temple at Christie’s, London for an image of the watercolour and permission to reproduce.
*The number is slightly controversial, Cecilia Powell (Turner in Germany, 1995, p.26 and Cat. no.17) prefers fifty. Despite the arguments the principal source must be the Farnley Hall catalogue of the collection in 1850 (see note 4), which Turner approved (see note 5), and which lists the Rhine drawings as a group of fifty-one.
1 In his pamphlet ‘Pre-Raphaelitism’, published in 1851, and written around the Turner works that he had seen at Farnley Hall; in E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, Library Edition, 1903-12, Volume 12, p. 376-7. The reference is worth reading in its original context. Ruskin’s core idea is that Turner’s study of exceptional phenomena on this tour to the Rhine liberated him into the colour and effect of his later career.
2 See C. Powell, Turner’s Rivers of Europe, Tate, 1991, especially ‘Waterloo and the Rhineland 1817’ p.20-36, and Turner in Germany, Tate, 1995, especially ‘The First Visit to the Rhine, 1817’, pp. 20-29.
3 Bruno Wollheim, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Coluga Pictures, 2007.
4 ‘A Catalogue of the Oil Paintings and Watercolour drawings and Sketches in Watercolours by J M W Turner RA in the possession of F H Fawkes Esqre of Farnley Hall, Otley, Yorkshire, A.D. 1850’, National Art Library, V&A Museum; a later copy is at Bradford Central Libraries. No transcript of this catalogue has been published.
5 See John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J M W Turner, 1980, no.318: ‘Your catalogue is capital yet I could wish to see the Total number even in writing even at the end.’
6 Walter Thornbury, The Life and Correspondence of J M W Turner, (1862) 1877 edition, p. 238.
And finally I ought to mention my fellow cyclists in 2006; Robert Waterhouse, Eric Howell and Ken Guest, together with the pedestrian Philip Morris, who put up with the constant stoppages for ‘Turnering’, occasionally feigned some interest and behaved with commendable but uncharacteristic decorum at the ‘Rhinelust’ in Boppard.