Joseph Mallord William Turner

Brussels: The Diligence


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 195 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 219

Display caption

This lively scene is based on a rough pencil sketch made while Turner was waiting for the diligence that would take him to Louvain at the very start of his 1839 tour. He modified the architecture of each of the buildings shown, but kept some of their essential characteristics and the composition as a whole remained the same. In his sketch, the celebrated town hall of Brussels was given only very summary treatment, but his memory gave him sufficient information to show the many ornate tiers of this immensely tall Gothic building in a thoroughly convincing, if somewhat impressionistic, manner.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This dynamic scene shows passengers waiting to board a diligence stagecoach at Brussels’s Grand Place. It is based on a pencil sketch in the Spa, Dinant, and Namur sketchbook of the same date (Tate D28043–D28044; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 1a–2). As Cecilia Powell writes, this swift pencil jotting was ‘evidently made while Turner was waiting for the diligence that would take him to Louvain at the very start of his 1839 tour’.1
Turner’s fluid handling conveys the bustle and energy of the Grand Place: the passengers and crew mounting and dismounting the coach with luggage in hand. Figures are rendered in abbreviated and impressionistic line, and some are drawn overlapped to evoke a further sense of kinesis. The road is a blurred smudge of grey wash merged with yellow gouache. In all, the swift application of colour and Turner’s loose, summary line give an impression of the drawing having been taken on the spot, though it is believed to have been worked up from the pencil sketch a number of months later. The sense of immediacy and movement, though, is skilfully preserved.
Brussels’s Gothic town hall is at right and highlighted in golden gouache, its intricate architectural detail described with fine pen and brown ink line. The central neo-classical building has been modified from the one recorded in Turner’s preliminary pencil sketch. Its restrained, linear form makes a noticeable counterpoint to the Gothic spectacle of the town hall.
A similar scene to this is found in Tate D24902; Turner Bequest CCLX 66, a gouache, pen and ink drawing also executed on blue paper which depicts a diligence at the high street in Louviers, Northern France. For an earlier drawing of the Grand Place and Town Hall at Brussels see folio nine verso of the Waterloo and Rhine sketchbook of 1817 (Tate D12717; Turner Bequest 9a).
Powell 1991, p.165 no.106.
There are two pencil circles inscribed towards the bottom right of the sheet.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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