Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rocks on the Meuse at Marche-les-Dames


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 137 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXII C

Display caption

The romantic name of Marche-les-Dames (no.91) derives from the foundation of a twelfth-century abbey in an adjacent side-valley by 139 noble ladies who were the widows of Crusaders. Turner has used gouache, lightly applied with a brush, rather than pen and ink, to show both the characteristic fissures in the oolitic cliffs above the village and all the details of both buildings and the riverside. The resulting criss-cross effect is unusual but the pinkness of his rocks here is similar to that in other scenes on both the Meuse (no.92) and the Mosel (no.49).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

In this drawing Turner depicts Marche-les-Dames, a Meuse village located some five miles downstream from the Belgian city of Namur. As Cecilia Powell notes, Marche-les-Dames derived its name from ‘the foundation of an abbey in 1101 “by 139 noble ladies, the widows of Crusaders who had accompanied Godfrey de Bouillon to the Holy Land”.’1
The chateau of Prosper Louis, the 7th Duke of Arenberg, can be seen overlooking the riverbank. It was built in the early nineteenth century by Jean-Joseph Jaumenne, a celebrated ironmaster of the Napoleonic Empire.2 The façade of Arenberg’s house, and the local church on the hill located directly behind the house, is left in ‘negative’. The buildings appear rather ghosted, described with no other media than a thin veil of white gouache. Their forms seem at once integrated into the view and erased from it.
To the left of a gently undulating shrub-dotted hillside are the vertiginous limestone cliffs which characterise the fluvial topography of this side of the Meuse. These are the same ‘high rocks’, which the travel writer Dudley Costello found to ‘give so imposing a character’ to Marche-les-Dames, here rendered by Turner in pale terracotta, rust red and olive green.3 The bold striations and fissures represented by the artist are, Cecilia Powell notes, ‘a particular feature’ of the rocks on this stretch of the Meuse valley (see also Tate D24736; Turner Bequest CCLIX 171). 4
This drawing is based on preparatory pencil sketches found in the Spa, Dinant, and Namur sketchbook (Tate D28129–D28130; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 46 a–47).
Powell 1991, p.156 no.91.
‘Chateaux’, Fondation d’Arenberg, accessed 29 July 2014,
Dudley Costello, A Tour through the Valley of the Meuse, London 1846, p.146.
Powell 1991, p.157 no.92.
Inscribed in pencil ‘?’, ‘221’, and ‘25b’ at centre towards right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCXXII–C’ at bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCXXII–C’ at bottom centre.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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