Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Walhalla, on the River Danube at Donaustauf near Regensburg, at Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 245 × 307 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 316

Display caption

The design of the Walhalla (1830-42) was closely based on that of the Parthenon in Athens and it stands overlooking the Danube a few miles east of Regensburg. Inside are busts and tablets honouring the great Germans of history. When Turner visited the unfinished temple in 1840 he drew many pencil sketches both inside and out, with details of architectural features and ground plans. Some drawings were made in a sketchbook (no.65), others on pieces of grey paper similar to nos.94-6. No.97 is his only watercolour study and was probably drawn after his return to London when he decided to make the Walhalla the subject of a painting (no.109, downstairs in Room T9).

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This atmospheric watercolour shows the River Danube about five miles east of Regensburg in southern Germany. Finberg approached the correct identification with ‘River and bridge. Query Ratisbon’,1 the former English version of the city’s name, and Andrew Wilton first discussed its full significance as a view of the Walhalla monument, noting the ‘grandeur’ of this ‘mysterious, beautiful study’.2 Despite its triangular pediment not being indicated, Cecilia Powell has succinctly described the subject:
... there can be no mistaking the dominant feature on the right: the huge temple of the Walhalla on its hill, rising above a white marble substructure of many tiers and over three hundred steps. Below it lies the Danube with the wooden bridge at Donaustauf, the ruined castle of which looms out of the haze just to the left of the Walhalla. Regensburg lies a few miles upstream, out of sight.3
The small town stands in quiet countryside on the north bank of the river. At the time of Turner’s visit in September 1840, the Greek temple-style monument was nearing completion less than a mile east of the town. Usually rendered as ‘Valhalla’ in English, the mythical hall of Norse gods and heroes would later feature in Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle. The various German states still awaited unification as a nation in 1871; meanwhile, King Ludwig I of Bavaria (ruled 1825–1848), had been planning a Hall of Fame to commemorate prominent Germans since the events of the Napoleonic War had stirred feelings of Romantic nationalism. Marble busts of royal, military, scientific, literary and artistic figures had already been in preparation for many years when building commenced in 1830. Finally opening in October 1842, the Walhalla was designed in the Doric order by the Neo-Classical architect Leo von Klenze, closely modelled on the Parthenon of Athens.4
Turner made numerous pencil sketches, plans and architectural notes of the building and its relationship to the landscape and town in the Venice; Passau to Würzburg sketchbook; see under Tate D31341 (Turner Bequest CCCX 33a). As Powell has noted, no single sketch prefigures this composition, although D31341 ‘shows Donaustauf and its bridge from a similar but closer viewpoint’;5 see also D31344 and D31412 (CCCX 35, 69). On sections of a single sheet of grey paper which also included Regensburg subjects (D32185, D34081, D36150, D36153; CCCXVII 6, CCCXLI 360, CCCLXIV 293, 296), Turner made three pencil and chalk studies of the Walhalla (Tate D34084, D34085, D34093; CCCXLI 363, 364, 371), also included in the present subsection; D34084 shows the interior.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1200.
See Wilton 1982, pp.56–7.
Powell 1995, p.168.
This account is based largely on the more detailed information in Powell 1995, pp.70, 179–80; see also Wilton 1982, p.56, Cecilia Powell, ‘Walhalla’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.370. Warrell 2007, p.204, and Warrell 2015, p.3.
Powell 1995, p.168.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.249–50 no.401, pl.410; see also Wilton 1982, p.57, and Warrell 2007, p.206.
See Powell 1995, p.168.
See Warrell 2015, pp.3–7.
See ibid., p.6.
As given (albeit with discussion of other possibilities) in Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.487 no.1555, pl.256
Warrell 2015, p.6.
See Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.80–1.
Not in Wilton 1979; Warrell 2015, p.5 fig.4 (colour), as ‘The Thurn und Taxis Palace, with the Obermunster in the Distance, Regensburg’, c.1840.
Wilton 1979, p.474 no.1455, reproduced; Warrell 2015, p.4 fig.2, as ‘Regensburg: the Neupfarrplatz at Night, with a Nearby Fire’, c.1840.
See Christie’s 2010, p.168 (unsigned entry with input from Ian Warrell, paper conservator Peter Bower and others).
See Warrell 2015, p.6.
See ‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, sections 1 and 2) in Ian Warrell, David Laven, Jan Morris and others, Turner and Venice, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, p.259.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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