Joseph Mallord William Turner

Heidelberg

c.1844–5

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1321 x 2019 mm
frame: 1540 x 2248 x 82 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
N00518

Display caption

The crowd of figures belonged to the court of the ‘Winter Queen’, Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the English king James I. She married the Elector Palatine, Friedrich V, in 1613. The couple are shown sitting in the left foreground, with Heidelberg castle on the hillside behind them. Their court was briefly famous for its extravagant entertainments, although Friedrich lost control of the Palatine in 1620, after which they lived their lives as exiles in Holland.

This unfinished picture may have been intended as a historical counterpart to a painting of a modern German subject, The Opening of the Walhalla.

Gallery label, February 2010

Catalogue entry

440. [N00518] Heidelberg c. 1840–5

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (518)

Canvas, 52 × 79 1/2 (132 × 201)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (255, ‘1 [picture] (Heidelburg)’ 6'8" × 4'4"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1929.

Exh. Newcastle 1912 (52); Newcastle 1924 (162); Whitechapel 1953 (88); Heidelberg im Bild der Jahrhunderte Ottheinrichbau des Schlosses, Heidelberg, May–October 1957; New York 1966 (18, repr. p. 60); R.A. 1974–5 (574, repr.).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 326; 1877, p. 452; Armstrong 1902, p. 222; MacColl 1920, p. 18; Davies 1946, p. 190; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 56, pl. 106; Gowing 1966, p. 38, repr, p. 60; Max Schefold, ‘William Turner im Heidelberg und am Neckar’, Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Württemberg v 1968, pp. 136–7, repr. p. 131; Wilton 1979, p. 244; Wilton 1980, p. 171; Butlin 1981, p. 45.

A large finished picture of the kind normally exhibited by Turner, but for some reason this particular work does not seem to have been shown at the R.A. or anywhere else during his lifetime. The German subject and general composition are similar to the Opening of the Walhalla, 1842, exhibited in 1843 (No. 401 [N00533]), there being the same rather hectic air of festivity. In this case the costumes suggest that Turner was alluding to the short-lived court of the ‘Winter Queen’, Elizabeth sister of Charles I, who married Frederick Elector Palatine but who spent most of her life in exile after the failure of his attempt to hold the crown fo Bohemia. Turner has shown the castle, partly destroyed by the French in 1689, as undamaged. The picture was engraved by T.A. Prior and published in the Turner Gallery 1859–61, as ‘Heidelberg Castle in the olden Time’.

The painting is on a canvas bearing a duty stamp that implies the date 1830 (see Butlin loc. cit.), but, as has been suggested above, the picture seems in style and general composition to be a work of the 1840s. Andrew Wilton (1980) suggests that it follows Turner's last visit to Heidelberg in 1844.

There are a number of sketches of Heidelberg, Frederick's original capital, in the ‘Spires and Heidelberg’ sketchbook and the ‘Heidelberg up to Salzburg’ sketchbook of 1840 (CCXCVII and CCXCVIII).

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984