Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trier from the West


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 141 × 188 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 150

Display caption

This panoramic view is of Germany's oldest city, Trier. The Roman bridge across the Mosel, the cathedral and the Liebfravenkirche are seen from the village of Pallien.

Gallery label, June 1993

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Catalogue entry

Here Turner pictures the ancient German city of Trier at twilight. The scene is taken at a distance and from a westerly perspective.
Trier, according to Michael Joseph Quin, was once ‘considered to be the second capital of the Roman Empire’, in point ‘of rank and splendour, commerce, wealth, learning and the arts’.1 It had since fallen into a ‘decayed condition’, and was, by the mid-nineteenth century, ‘no more than the attenuated shadow of what it was’.2 From a distance, however, the ‘first view of Treves [Trier]’ continued to be ‘singularly interesting’ to the author and traveller Bartholomew Stritch, and, evidently, to Turner. Stritch describes Trier as ‘situated advantageously on the right bank of the Moselle, in a wide and luxuriant valley, bounded on all sides by lofty and picturesque sloped, and vine covered hills’.3 With its ‘numerous towers... [the] spires of its churches... convents... the palace of Constantine... the colossal and ebon black structure of the Porta Negra [and] its sombre air of remote antiquity’, Trier ‘conveys an impression that is not speedily effaced from the memory of the spectator’.4
Turner’s twilight view of the city was taken from Pallien, a village ‘nestled most picturesquely at the foot of an enormous rock’ in the plain of Trier.5 From there the artist could incorporate into his drawing the ancient Roman bridge, the cathedral and the Liebfrauenkirche, and finally the ‘black’ city gate or Porta Nigra. Turner pictured the latter of these monuments in a separate gouache of the same date (Tate D20230; Turner Bequest CCXX W). See also the earlier watercolour drawing of Trier in the Trèves and Rhine sketchbook of 1824 (Tate D20146; Turner Bequest CCXVIII 8).
This gouache is based on three pencil drawings from the Givet, Mézières, Verdun, Metz, Luxemburg and Trèves sketchbook of the same date (Tate D28258–D28260; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVIII 51–2).
Michael Joseph Quin, Steam voyages on the Seine, the Moselle, & the Rhine: with railroad visits to the principal cities of Belgium, London 1843, p.280.
Bartholomew Stritch, The Meuse, the Moselle, and the Rhine; or, A six weeks' tour through the finest river scenery in Europe, London 1845, p.36
Ibid, p.46.
Inscribed in chalk ‘?15’ at top centre and in pencil ‘CCLIX 150’ at bottom right.

Alice Rylance-Watson
September 2013

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