Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notre-Dame, Huy

c.1839

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 188 x 139 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D20268
Turner Bequest CCXXII I

Display caption

Turner's views of Huy are notable for including the only known vertical composition in the Meuse series, showing its collegiate church (no.86). Together with Huy's fortress and bridge this reappears in all his other scenes. These are executed in very different styles, some being characterised by an extensive reliance on pen and different coloured inks, others by their generous use of gouache rather than watercolour washes. In two scenes (nos.88, 90) Turner's viewpoint is exceptionally high so that the gigantic fort is reduced to a comparatively minor feature in the landscape.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

In this drawing Turner depicts the Walloon city of Huy with its Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame to the left of the bridge. Traditional half-timbered buildings line a narrow street in the foreground, while a giant precipice looms vertiginous in the background.
Turner referred to a rough pencil jotting of Notre-Dame in the Spa, Dinant, and Namur sketchbook to represent the church’s apse and towers here (Tate D28147; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 56a). This pencil sketch was taken from a high vantage point to the south-east of Huy at the Place Saint-Denis, captured while on an excursion on foot which took the artist inland and into the foothills of the city, away from the Meuse itself.
Much of what is represented in this gouache, however, is the product of Turner’s imagination. That is to say the artist has removed and rearranged landmarks to suit his composition. As Cecilia Powell notes, it would have been impossible for Turner to see up the Meuse from this viewpoint, though this did not deter him from depicting the bridge and the river in the middle distance, marking out the latter with daubs of blue gouache.1 The most ‘fanciful’ aspect of the gouache is, Powell writes, the total elimination from the composition of the formidable citadel of Huy which dominates the city from a vertiginous promontory above Notre-Dame.2 Powell proposes that Turner’s omission of this conspicuous symbol of military power amounts to a deliberate re-portrayal of Huy as ‘a picturesque old town, free from external threats’.3
In fact, owing to its strategic location, the citadel must have invited significant political and military upheaval for the people of Huy. In this much-contested region, the fortress became the dominion of whichever European power had control of Walloon at the time. Huy and its citadel had been under French rule, for example, during parts of the reign of Louis XIV. The Dutch, on the other hand, gained this territory and rebuilt Huy’s citadel into a mighty artillery barracks. 4 The citadel, then, could easily have stood as a symbol of the protracted episodes of war in which the Low Countries were embroiled.
1
Powell 1991, p.153 no.86.
2
Ibid.
3
Ibid.
4
‘Citadelle de Huy’, Châteaux de la Meuse, http://www.chateauxdelameuse.eu/affiche.php, accessed 28 June 2013.
5
Powell 1991, p.153 no.86.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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