View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
The subject matter of this striking gouache was, for many years, only tentatively identified. Its size and production on blue paper led Finberg to catalogue the drawing as a ‘View on the Seine’ connected to the Rivers of France project: a series of three volumes illustrating the Seine and Loire (published 1833–5).1 Finberg did stipulate, however, that the drawings were not all identified and were only loosely grouped together. He writes that ‘some Belgian subjects may have also been included, and there may possibly be some Rhine and even English subjects amongst them’.2 For decades, Finberg’s preliminary attribution remained unquestioned.
Turner scholar Andrew Wilton concurred with Finberg, writing, in 1975, that this drawing did indeed show the Seine. Wilton further suggested that the view was taken from a meander of that river at Jumièges, a village situated west of Rouen in the Haute-Normandie department. This judgement derived from the drawing’s compositional similarity to sketches and a watercolour of Jumièges of c.1832, produced for Turner’s Annual Tour, Wanderings by the Seine of 1834 (Tate D24696; Turner Bequest CCLIX 131 and related sketches).3
When this drawing appeared in the 1981 exhibition Turner en France, however, it was simply titled a ‘River Scene’ because of its indistinctness and the questions over its subject matter. Nicholas Alfrey, who contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue, writes that ‘the two vertical masses against the light’ are actually ‘intended to represent trees or towers’, and ‘they do not correspond closely with any of the pencil studies Turner made of Jumièges’.4 In addition, Alfrey writes that ‘the composition in its simplicity seems quite untypical of those favoured by Turner for his Seine views’.5 Despite Alfrey’s caveat, the art historian Ian Warrell maintained Wilton’s attribution, cataloguing the gouache as ‘The Towers of an Abbey at Sunset: ?Jumièges’.6
The caution of Finberg, Wilton, Alfrey and Warrell proved to be justified when, in December 1999, Cecilia Powell demonstrated that this gouache shows Güls, a town on the west bank of the Moselle near Koblenz.7 Powell writes that: