View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Here Turner depicts the Moselle town of Cochem in Germany. Cochem’s ancient feudal stronghold, the Reichsburg Castle, can be seen atop a conical mount at left, shaded with warm terracotta-toned gouache. Part of the castle and ridge catches the sunlight and is ‘illumined’, as Quin writes, with yellow gouache that gleams ‘with the lustre of burnished steel armour’.1
Turner employs a striking, and contrastive, technique to picture Cochem itself. He does not colour the town with the same broad applications of gouache or watercolour wash used for the surrounding hillside. Instead, the artist has smudged white gouache over a translucent veil of grey-green watercolour, then, in turn, he has drawn the architecture of Cochem over the gouache with hairline strokes of pen and black ink. Most visible among these buildings is the baroque steeple of St Martin’s Church (see Tate D20253; Turner Bequest CCXXI T for a closer view). The softly smudged white gouache evokes a heavy-hanging atmospheric haze, falling like powdery mist over Cochem.
The impressionistic character of this work is emphasised further by Turner’s rendering of a group of figures, perhaps travellers or locals, on a road in the foreground at bottom right. Drawn freely and swiftly in fine red ink, Turner only delineates the figures’ bodies in summary outline, making no attempt to reproduce their three-dimensional form. This abbreviated linear rendering of the figures, coupled with the living motion implied by their gestures and postures, could be understood to be Turner’s way of showing the ‘trace’ of human activity and movement on this road near Cochem. That is to say these figures in the foreground, represented in a manner which renders them not entirely whole or substantial, emblematise transience or at least communicate to the viewer the fleeting comings and goings of people over time in a certain place.
Michael Joseph Quin, Steam voyages on the Seine, the Moselle, & the Rhine: with railroad visits to the principal cities of Belgium, London 1843, p.49.