Joseph Mallord William Turner

Passau from the Ilzstadt, above the Confluence of the River Ilz with the Danube


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 135 × 188 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXCII 57

Catalogue entry

As Cecilia Powell recognised,1 this colour study shows the prospect south-west over Passau from the open ground above St Bartholomäus’s Church on the Ilzstadt. The brightest spot towards the bottom left is light at the mouth of the River Ilz, which winds south through the valley beyond the church spire, flowing into the much larger Danube below the roughly outlined blocks of the Niederhaus fortifications. Above the spire towards the top right is the Oberhaus, looking over the centre of Passau. The tip of the Altstadt peninsula is shown blue in the distance above the Niederhaus, with slight indications of its skyline including the cathedral towards the right. The twin spires of the Mariahilf church are shown cursorily to the left on the slopes south of the River Inn, which is also absorbed by the Danube at the near end of the Altstadt. Both rivers not so much indicated by the pencil work as implied by a halo of white light reflected from the brilliantly lit sunset clouds and sky.
There is a loose pencil sketch from about the same point in the contemporary Venice; Passau to Würzburg sketchbook (Tate D31383; Turner Bequest CCCX 54a); see under D31371 (CCCX 48a) in that book for its numerous other sketches, and those in two other sketchbooks, including colour studies. All this activity in mid-September 1840 led to one finished watercolour on conventional white paper, Passau, Germany, at the Confluence of the Rivers Inn and Danube (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin),2 from an effectively imaginary elevated viewpoint over the Danube south of the one used here, looking due west into the gold-tinged glare of a near-white sunset sky, with the forms of the city and hills dissolving in a blue haze, likely informed by the effect recorded or recollected here.
Tate D28993 (Turner Bequest CCXCII 46) is a similar colour study, with slightly more precise pencil detail, but without the trees introduced in the left foreground here as a conventional and somewhat intrusive repoussoir device; see also D33871 (CCCXLI 174), in pencil alone, apart from a little white chalk marking the rivers. Powell has observed that Turner’s relatively loose ‘style’ in the other variant is ‘consistent with many of the pencil drawings on grey paper which he made in 1840 and did not bother to colour. The fact that he did colour [that] drawing (and [this one]) underlines the special significance he attached to Passau on this tour.’3 Compare the much more elaborate treatment in a watercolour study of much the same view on the white paper of the Passau and Burg Hals sketchbook (Tate D33668; Turner Bequest CCCXL 3).
See Powell 1995, p.159.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.458 no.1317, reproduced.
Powell 1995, p.159.
See also ibid., pp.69, 81 note 42.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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