View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This drawing of Liège represents the city as a flourishing industrial hub. According to the travel writer Bartholomew Stritch, Liège manufactured ‘principally in the iron way’ and was the ‘most thriving town in Belgium’.1 Stritch calls the city ‘the Birmingham’ of Belgium for its metalwork, but, ‘like its namesake, it lies under a canopy of smoke, has a thick and murky atmosphere, dingy houses and dirty streets’.2
Turner’s Liège clearly bears little resemblance to Stritch’s: it is cleansed, picturesque, and uncluttered, the drawing executed in a flattering palette of soft pastels. The factories, rendered in warm rust-red, are tinged with a little black, perhaps to suggest at least some of the soot and smoke of industry.
The composition is based on two rough pencil drawings in the Spa, Dinant, and Namur sketchbook of 1839 (Tate D28073–D28074; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 16a–17). There is another 1839 gouache of the city taken from the Pont des Arches looking towards the Maison Curtius and other landmarks (Tate D24664; Turner Bequest CCLIX 99).
Inscribed in pencil ‘30a’ at centre towards top right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCXXII–X’ at bottom left; inscribed in red ink (probably by Ruskin) ‘?1701’.