Joseph Mallord William Turner

Burg Sooneck with Bacharach in the Distance


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 403 × 567 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 182

Display caption

Turner's larger and more elaborate watercolours were usually preceded by coloured studies in which he worked out the essential features of his composition. In no.16 the upper study can easily be related to the finished drawing of Burg Sooneck (no.17) but the lower one shows only the bands of coloured washes which were his habitual starting-point. The colour arrangements of both preparatory studies are similar to that of the finished watercolour, but the larger colour study is closer to it in the composition of the hillside on the left.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This study relates to the watercolour Burg Sooneck with Bacharach in the Distance of about 1820 (Aberdeen Art Gallery),1 which is on a somewhat smaller scale.2 Tate D25242 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 120) is another colour study, this time somewhat a little smaller than the finished design, a variation on an 1817 watercolour (British Museum, London)3 which Turner had sold to Walter Fawkes among many other River Rhine subjects soon after his return from the Continent (see the Introduction to this section).
The view is downstream to the north, with the bright form of the castle of Burg Sooneck reserved towards the top left and the location of the riverside town of Bacharach left bare at the centre, with the locations of the town of Lorch on the shaded bank at the right and the tower of Burg Nollig above it barely indicated.4 The composition is based on a slight pencil drawing in the 1817 Waterloo and Rhine sketchbook (Tate D12821; Turner Bequest CLX 62).5 As Cecilia Powell has noted, the Aberdeen version features ‘exaggerated contours’ compared with the 1817 rendering (but already becoming apparent in the present study): ‘the latter [completed] work is not based on the earlier, nor is either of them absolutely faithful to the stretch of river depicted’.6 Although Turner was clearly diligent in working out its design through two colour studies, the initial ownership of the 1820 watercolour has not been determined, and other German subjects of this period were painted for various patrons.7
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.380 no.693, as ‘Bacharach on the Rhine’, reproduced.
See Perkins 1990, p.35, Powell 1991, pp.107–8, and Shanes 1997, p.97.
Ibid., p.377 no.671, reproduced.
See Kim Sloan, J.M.W. Turner: Watercolours from the R.W. Lloyd Bequest in the British Museum, London 1998, p.70.
See Powell 1991, p.108, and Sloan 1998, p.70 and note 2.
Powell 1991, p.108.
See ibid., p.107, and Cecilia Powell, Turner in Germany, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, pp.28, 77 note 54.
Technical notes:
There are watercolour tests down the left-hand edge in stronger tones than those used in the composition. The top of the sheet is irregular, tapering towards the right such that the vertical dimension at that side is 385 mm as against 403 mm on the left.
Blank; a distinct 25 mm strip is darkened down the right-hand edge. There are multi-coloured watercolour test strokes all the way across the bottom of this unaccessioned side (not mentioned by Finberg), especially in blue, red and yellow. Among them are the perhaps random numbers ‘170 | 140’ inscribed, presumably by Turner, in pale blue with the point of the brush.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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