Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ehrenbreitstein from Coblenz

c.1839

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 141 x 192 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D24809
Turner Bequest CCLIX 244

Display caption

None of these three studies has previously been recognised for what it really is, but there can be no mistaking the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, the large domed church of the Holy Cross and the bridge of boats (compare nos.127-131). Taken together, the three show a wide-angled view in the extended horizontal format often found in much earlier topographical views of rivers. Thus, despite their free handling and their expressive, forward-looking colours, the views are in fact deeply rooted in the topographical traditions of the past, as was the case with much of Turner's most avant-garde work in the late 1830s.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This evocative view of the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein at Koblenz is particularly striking amongst the other 1839 Moselle gouaches for its abstracted and indistinct rendering of topography. It should be viewed as one of a group of three similarly impressionist gouaches of this subject (Tate D24804, D24833; Turner Bequest CCLIX 239, 268) which Cecilia Powell proposes were intended, when put together, to show a ‘wide-angled view’ from the same or similar viewpoint.1
Ehrenbreitstein, known also by its English name, the ‘broad stone of honour’, is here rendered in mauve wash and highlighted with peach-coloured gouache. The mauve pigment has bled and feathered into the translucent teal wash used to mark out the land mass below. The sky is in blurry overcast, with the exception of a flash of brilliant azure blue where the clouds have separated.
Ehrenbreitstein Citadel was built by the Prussians between 1817 and 1828 on the foundations of earlier fortifications.2 Its chief function was to guard the middle Rhine region from its strategic location at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. Ehrenbreitstein was by far Prussia’s largest citadel and the backbone of their garrisons. It was described by Quin as ‘a most magnificent pile’ which ‘may justly be considered the great bulwark of Prussian dominions towards the confines of France’.3 Despite Quin’s rather military description, Turner, in this drawing, aestheticises the fortress, demobilising it from a colossal ‘bulwark’, redolent of the brutality of war, through a process of painterly abstraction.
1
Powell 1991, p.150 no.82.
2
‘History of the Fortress’, Die Festung Ehrenbreitstein, accessed 13 August 2014, http://www.diefestungehrenbreitstein.de/index.php?id=20309
3
Michael Joseph Quin, Steam voyages on the Seine, the Moselle, & the Rhine: with railroad visits to the principal cities of Belgium, London 1843, p.88–9.
Technical notes:
There has been some fading and discolouration of the pigment and support due to exposure to sunlight following the picture’s exhibition.
Verso:
Inscribed in pencil ‘CCLIX 244’ bottom right

Alice Rylance-Watson
September 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

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