Joseph Mallord William Turner

Distant View of Luxembourg from the Bourbon Plateau

c.1839

In Tate Britain

Turner's Modern World

Last chance
Closed
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 137 × 188 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D20284
Turner Bequest CCXXII Y

Catalogue entry

This drawing of Luxembourg from the Bourbon plateau is an amalgamation of both real and imagined topography. The distant profile of Luxembourg City is more or less accurate; the foreground, however, is invented. In it Turner pictures a fortification on the Bourbon plateau architected from visual memoranda stored in his sketchbooks and in memory. He had indeed encountered an array of similar fortifications on this and previous tours of the region, and, no doubt, called on his experiences to construct pictorially the foundations of the fortification depicted here.1 Demilune openings to the fort can be seen signalling the entrance to tunnels and possibly to warrens of underground passageways and galleries. Their structure is not dissimilar to the artillery fortress and casemates of the Bock promontory, located further into Luxembourg City. A figure, perhaps an imaginary soldier, stands by one of these openings. To his right is a rather curious-looking object, which appears to be a decorated post of some sort, painted with diagonal powder blue stripes. A single dot of the same blue is used to paint part of the figure’s garb with dark red used to colour other parts of the costume. Along with white, these are the principal colours of Luxembourg’s coat of arms where the escutcheon of which is formed of a red lion rampant on a background of blue and white stripes. Perhaps Turner is making a small reference to the Grand Duchy’s heraldry here.
Turner produced one other gouache of Luxembourg from the Bourbon plateau, and this drawing too incorporates both real and imagined elements (see Tate D20264; Turner Bequest CCXXII E).
For other Luxembourg gouaches see Tate D20244–D20249, D20270, D20272–D20273; Turner Bequest CCXXI K–CCXXI P, CCXXII K, M–N).
1
See Powell 1991, p.173.
Technical notes:
There is some discolouration and fading.
Verso:
Inscribed in chalk or white gouache ‘5’ top right; inscribed in pencil ‘30b’ at centre; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCXXII Y’ at bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCXXII Y’ bottom centre.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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