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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Rouen, Looking Downstream c.1832

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Rouen, Looking Downstream c.1832
Turner Bequest CCLIX 108
Gouache and watercolour on blue paper, 140 x 192 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLIX – 108’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
By William Miller in 1833, published in 1834.
In this watercolour Turner presents a view of the city of Rouen in northern France. Rouen cathedral rises up in the central background. Turner depicts the cathedral’s façade as catching the light and gleaming white. As with another watercolour in this series, Rouen, Looking Upriver,c.1832 (Tate D24672; Turner Bequest CCLIX 107), he includes the cathedral’s old tower which had been destroyed in 1822, and began to be replaced with a metal spire in 1827,1 five years before this watercolour was made. As art historians Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage explain, Turner was concerned to extract the maximum dramatic effect from the height of the tower and therefore ignored its disappearance.2 It is likely Turner based this watercolour on pencil sketches he had made on previous trips before the destruction of the tower (perhaps the one across Tate D24511–D24512,3 and D245424 and D24532;5 respectively Turner Bequest CCLVIII 6a–7, 22a, 17), in his Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook from the tour of northern France in 1821, as well as possibly the separate studies, Bridge, with Church Towers Beyond; ?Rouen, c.1830 (Tate D24917; Turner Bequest CCLX 81) and The Faubourg Saint-Sever at Rouen, Normandy, c.1832 (Tate D24655; Turner Bequest CCLIX 90).6
To the right of the cathedral, the tower of the Abbey of Saint-Ouen and further right, the Church of Saint-Maclou, are minimally indicated with a few pen strokes and touches of gouache. Similarly as in the companion watercolour (mentioned above), Turner includes the old arched bridge (in some literature referred to as the ‘new stone bridge’) as a major component of the composition.7 Immediately above the bridge, Turner evokes the bulk of the city’s buildings effectively with simple touches of ink and gouache. In the foreground he conveys quiet activity through the figures depicted in boats on the water at right, at shaded stalls on the quayside at left, and fishing in the central foreground.
An engraving was made from this watercolour by William Miller, completed by October 1833, as Rouen (titled ‘Rouen, looking down the river’ in the List of Engravings, Tate impressions T05605 and T06235) for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 1834.8 In the engraving the light through the left side of the arched bridge and over the quay is emphasised, and Turner’s indications of the church towers at far right are worked into much fuller form.
Lyles 1992, p.59.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.119.
Warrell 1999, p.275.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.119.
Warrell 1999, p.275.
Lyles 1992, p.59.
Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1834, opposite p.158.
Previous records note ‘inscribed in gouache ‘18’, ‘Rouen’, and in chalk ‘5’ or (‘S’)’ however at the time of writing (November 2017) covered with a closed mount and simply marked ‘No image on the back.’

Caroline South
November 2017

How to cite

Caroline South, ‘Rouen, Looking Downstream c.1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-rouen-looking-downstream-r1195800, accessed 27 June 2022.