Joseph Mallord William Turner

Mézières, with the Pont de Pierre and Church of Notre-Dame


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 139 × 193 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 166

Display caption

In 1839 Turner was fascinated by the complex fortifications of Mézières and its imposing sixteenth-century church crowned by a classical tower, and recorded them in numerous sketches. The domed top storey of the church shown here was replaced by a tall, tapering spire in the late 1850s, but its previous appearance is recorded in two of the earliest known photographs of Mézières, believed to date from 1855. The sight of such monumental buildings inspired Turner to paint one of his grandest gouache studies, reminiscent of his own historical oil paintings of a much earlier period such as 'The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire' of 1817 (Gallery 106).

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This richly coloured drawing depicts the border town of Mézières, France from a south-easterly perspective. The time of day is sunset. Mézières is bathed in a glowing burnt orange, rose and apricot light. Turner’s vantage point looks directly toward the Pont de Pierre and the Meuse with the steeple of the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Espérance at right.
Certain of the drawing’s compositional and colouristic features recall a number of Turner’s works produced in the style of the seventeenth-century grand-manner landscapist Claude Lorrain (?1604/5–1682), notably Claude’s port or embarkation scenes.1 One thinks particularly of the radiant sundown light in this drawing, the centralised and illuminated focal point of the bridge and shimmering river, and the prominence of the steeple of Notre Dame which appears so classicised here that it almost resembles the ruins of a classical temple’s pediment.
In all, it is the vivid colouring employed by Turner which makes this drawing so arresting: the brilliant red of the costumed figures in the foreground, the flashes of gold representing reflected sunlight, stippled moss green for the river islets, and blush-pink daubs of sunset cloud.
Its composition derives from a rough pencil sketch in the Givet, Mézières, Verdun, Metz, Luxemburg and Trèves sketchbook of 1839 (Tate D28191; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVIII 13). The detailed rendering of the church tower, which is seen rising loftily at the right, is based on numerous sketches from the same book (Tate D28191, D28193, D28195, D28196, D28199, D28201, D28201; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVIII 13, 14, 15, 15a, 17, 18, 19a).
For examples and more information on Turner’s painting in the style of Claude see Ian Warrell (ed.), Turner Inspired in the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Technical notes:
There is some foxing at the bottom right corner of the verso.
Stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCLIX–166’ at centre towards right; inscribed in pencil ‘24b’at centre right; inscribed ‘CCLIX 166’ towards bottom right.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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