This drawing shows the city of Dinant at twilight, with the Roche à Bayard in the foreground. A steep cleft rock formation, the Roche à Bayard is named after a magical horse given as a gift to the legendary Four Brothers of Aymon by the Emperor Charlemagne. Folklore has it that a dispute occurred between the brothers and the Emperor over a chess game, and that the Quatre Fils Aymon were subsequently forced to flee court. The four men were aided by the horse Bayard who carried them on his back and leapt over the hills of the Ardennes to safety.1 Reaching Dinant, Bayard’s mighty hooves caused part of a tall cliff to split, leaving behind the splintered pinnacle of stone now known as the Roche à Bayard.2
The monolith is recorded in a number of rough drawings in the Spa, Dinant, and Namur sketchbook; these jottings provided the various visual ‘ingredients’ with which Turner created the present gouache (see, for example, Tate D28042, D28161, D28164; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVIII 1, 64, 65a). Cecilia Powell suggests that parts of this drawing may have been taken in situ, the artist adding watercolour and gouache to it later, in the winter of 1839.3
The sun, a small circle of opaque white gouache, casts shimmering reflections on the tranquil waters of the Meuse and on the wispy cirrus clouds above. The village of Bouvignes can be seen on the west bank: its church is visible, as are the ruins of its medieval feudal stronghold, Crèvecoeur Castle.
Turner’s handling is painterly. The artist has applied broad planes of translucent mauve, brown, and yellow-green wash to wetted blue paper, so that the watercolours merge and diffuse into one another to create an evocative atmospheric effect. The contours of the citadel, Church of Notre-Dame, and surrounding valley, on the other hand, are crisply delineated in brown and black ink.
Histoire des Quatre Fils Aymon, nouvelle édition corrigée, Lille 1819. See also ‘Le Rocher Bayard’, Ville de Dinant, accessed 21 July 2014, http://www
.dinant .be /patrimoine /sites /rocher -bayard
Powell 1991, p.162 no.99.
Inscribed in pencil ‘
25 b’ and ‘9’ at centre towards top right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCXX V’ at bottom centre towards right; inscribed in pencil ‘CCXX V’ bottom centre.