J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII H
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 180 x 257 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Thomas Hodgetts, ‘Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine’, published Turner, [?1] June 1811 although dated 1 January 1811
Since the Rhine was designated as the national border in 1801, there have effectively been two Laufenburgs, German and Swiss, divided by the river. The German, north bank appears to the left of Turner’s Liber Studiorum composition. His design is based on a combination of elements from two similar pencil drawings in the Fonthill sketchbook (Tate D02204, D02205; Turner Bequest XLVII 27, 28), made on his first tour of Switzerland in 1802. He referred to another, made from further down the river, to map the complexities of the distant roofs and windows (D02232; XLVII 55). He had included another urban view of the river in the first part of the Liber, showing Basle, about twenty miles to the west (see Tate D08135; Turner Bequest CXVII H).
Ruskin disliked the composition, finding it ‘remarkable’ that, to complement the British architectural subjects in the Liber, ‘we have nothing foreign to oppose but three slight, ill considered and unsatisfactory subjects, from Basle, Lauffenbourg, and Thun.’1 (See also Tate D08110, D08160; Turner Bequest CXVI I, CXVIII F.) Having described the rapids as ‘the grandest piece of running water, I suppose, to be seen in Europe’, he declared that the way ‘Turner came to tame them down to this little ribband of streaming light, and to reduce the really magnificent bridge ... to this mere footway, with a field-railing along it, passes all the caprice yet traced by me in his character.’2 However, he also compared Turner’s grouping of the figures favourably with examples by Titian and Veronese.3
The composition is recorded, as ‘7[:] 5 Lauffenbourg’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)4 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.5 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Lauffenbourg’, in a list of ‘Architecture’ subjects (Tate D12168; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 29a).6
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Thomas Hodgetts, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine.’ in part 6 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.27–31;7 see also Tate N02941 and D08132, D08133, D08134; Turner Bequest CXVII E, F, G). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00972) and the published engraving (A00973). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Architectural’ category (see also Tate D08110, D08115, D08118, D08126, D08131, D08142, D08154, D08157, D08160; Turner Bequest CXVI I, N, Q, Y, CXVII D, O, Z, CXVIII C, F).
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.235–6.
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in ibid., XXI 1906, p.220.
Ibid., VII 1903, p.225
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.59–68; 1906, pp.69–79; Finberg 1924, pp.105–24.
Technical notes:
There are very light pencil outlines for the buildings. The washes are very thin and soft, and were applied to wet paper for the buildings, with heavier washes used next in the foreground. Some whites were reserved, with a few additional ones scratched out. The overall colour is a cool brown with warmer touches; two or three brown pigments are present.1 To judge from the published 1861 photograph of the drawing, it seems that the distant town has faded badly and Turner had originally made use of stronger chiaroscuro in its roofscape. Rawlinson regretted that in the subsequent print, mezzotinted by Thomas Hodgetts, ‘the engraver has not, it appears to me, done justice to the drawing. This is a pleasant picture of a quaint little German town, with its steep-roofed houses and towers seen in afternoon sunlight. But in the Print the colour of the ink, as well as the heavy engraving, has given a very different and sombre effect’.2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.67–8.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘<[?QX]> | H’ centre, ‘D.08135’ bottom left, and ?by the artist ‘3’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – H’ bottom left
There are faint horizontal lines and other slight marks in pencil on the lower half of the sheet, including what is possibly a brief annotation comprising one or two cursive letters.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-lauffenbourgh-on-the-rhine-r1131738, accessed 19 June 2024.