Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Citadel of Saint-Esprit, Luxembourg


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 194 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXI O

Catalogue entry

In this drawing Turner communicates the colossal scale of Luxembourg’s Bock plateau which towers on three sides over the Alzette River. Saint-Esprit fortress stands atop the Bock, the mighty citadel’s foundations appearing seamlessly to merge into the promontory to create one vast and perpendicular mass of rock. To the left of the citadel is the seventeenth-century Jesuit Church of St Michael rendered in delicate line and highlighted in a pale coral pink. Further to the left are the two bastions of Beck and Louis.
In the foreground at left, on a steep gradient leading to the river, stands a tiny figure suggested with the briefest of means: two short dashes, one brown and one white for the body, with a dot of brown for the head. A small flock, perhaps of goats or sheep, gathers before the figure. The addition of the diminutive man and his tiny animals is surely a device to mark differences in scale: the citadel appears simply gigantic in comparison, its dimensions amplified almost beyond belief. Indeed, Turner’s manipulation, his exaggeration, of scale in this drawing led the art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) to describe it as ‘Probably the grandest drawing of this date’.1
The gouache is based on pencil sketches in the Givet, Mézières, Verdun, Metz, Luxemburg and Trèves sketchbook of the same date (Tate D28228–D28229; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVIII 32 a–33).
The Fogg Art Museum at Cambridge, Massachusetts owns a copy of this work produced by William Ward (1829–1908), who was one of Ruskin’s approved protégés.2
Ruskin in Powell 1991, p.174 no.121.
Warrell (ed.) et all 2007, p.156 no.109.
Inscribed in chalk or white gouache ‘22’ at centre towards right; inscribed in pencil ‘19b’ and ‘34 b’ at centre towards top left; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram and ‘CCXXI O’ at bottom centre and inscribed in pencil ‘CCXXI O’ at bottom towards right.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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