Farbsplash

On the trail of Rhine Romanticism

Traces of Rhine Romanticism

»Turner in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley«

The paintings of William Turner are among the most important and popular works of art of the Rheinromantik. The British artist toured the Rhine on several occasions. He was fascinated by the grandeur of the natural landscape, the ruins and the vine-covered hillsides along the Rhine. Turner’s talent for meticulous observation and his tremendous feeling for pictorial dynamics and the play of light have endowed us with a large number of watercolours based on the countless sketches he made on his first trip to the Rhine in 1817. With almost photographic precision, whilst still employing artistic exaggeration and collage style, he records landscapes, towns and human activity.

splash 4Die William Turner Route

The »William Turner Route«

A total of 26 sites between Koblenz and Bingen mark important waypoints on Turner’s journey through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. The momentary impressions he captured at these locations were subsequently turned into watercolour masterpieces that communicate his passion for the special atmosphere and primordial quality of the landscape along this poetically idealized river. Walk-on info panels and interactive storytelling invite the viewer to enter the artist’s world.

»Status der Standortmarkierung«

Die begehbaren Informationstafeln der William Turner Route werden ab sofort und sukzessive über die nächsten Jahre vor Ort installiert. Den Auftakt für 2017 bilden die Standorte 9, 10, 11 und 12 im Umkreis von St. Goar und dem gegenüberliegenden St. Goarshausen. Über die Fertigstellung wird entsprechend berichtet. Bereits jetzt ist das gesamte Repertoire an Turners ausgewählten Rheinansichten über die Website digital erfahrbar.

Die begehbaren Informationstafeln der William Turner Route werden ab sofort und sukzessive über die nächsten Jahre vor Ort installiert. Den Auftakt für 2017 bilden die Standorte 9, 10, 11 und 12 im Umkreis von St. Goar und dem gegenüberliegenden St. Goarshausen. Über die Fertigstellung wird entsprechend berichtet. Bereits jetzt ist das gesamte Repertoire an Turners ausgewählten Rheinansichten über die Website digital erfahrbar.

Follow the trail of the artist and discover his fascinating view of the valley.

London – Koblenz

»Setting off for new horizons«

In his life so far, William Turner has produced countless sketches, composed paintings and created masterpieces. Up to now, however, the legendary Rhine has never been one of his motifs. He is full of eager expectation at the prospect of visiting »Father Rhine« when he sets out on his journey in the summer of 1817.

On the morning of 10th August 1817 Turner leaves his home city of London. He travels by stagecoach via Belgium and the Netherlands. He gets his first glimpse of the Rhine eight days later in Cologne. He is carrying only light baggage, as he intends to cover most of the distance on foot – along stony, overgrown paths along the banks of the mighty river. He follows the »Route Napoleon« along the west bank of the Rhine. Having paused to make several sketches at Bonn and Remagen, he reaches the town of Koblenz on the evening of 21st August.

Turner’s itinerary 1817

William Turner – Reiseroute 1817
William Turner – Reiseroute 1817

»I have fortunately met with a (…) little elderly gentleman, who will probably be my travelling companion throughout the journey. He is continually popping his head out of the window to sketch whatever strikes his fancy, and became quite angry because the conductor would not wait for him whilst he took a sunrise view (…).

›Damn the fellow!‹ says he, ›He has no feeling.‹

From his conversation he is evidently near kin to, if not absolutely, an artist. Probably you may know something of him. The name on his trunk is J. W. or J. M. W. Turner.«

From Walker, John: William Turner, Cologne 1978
Koblenz

»The Rhine revealed«

Thursday 21st August 1817 is a warm, sunny summer’s day and the Rhine shows itself to its best advantage. No wonder, then, that Turner spends two nights here, savouring the impressions of the old Roman city. Ehrenbreitstein Fortress holds a particular fascination for him. Working from a wide variety of different viewpoints, he records his impressions and studies in his “Waterloo and Rhine” sketchbook. The idyllic location at the confluence of Rhine and Moselle will remain a lasting inspiration and he is to return here on many occasions in later years.

Turner records many details of Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in his sketchbook. His books also contain a graphic record of the city of Koblenz itself and the bridge over the Moselle. Years later his sketches will still serve as the basis for masterful watercolours.

It is not until more than 20 years later that he paints this series of watercolours of the fortress, using his collection of architectural studies as source material. The series is considered one of his finest, showing very early on his unparalleled instinct for colour and light.

Between 1817 and the early 1840s Turner immortalized Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in various different perspectives and light conditions. The paintings are characterised by their skilful colour gradations and contrasts, showing Ehrenbreitstein (both the rock and the fortress) in a rich variety of moods and guises, the effects intensified by the different light-sources of sun, moon and river-bank illuminations.

Koblenz – Boppard

»Drawing, he sees«

On Saturday 3rd August the artist continues on his way in the direction of Boppard. He walks along the west bank of the Rhine, surrounded by the unspoilt natural scenery of the valley. The summer scene inspires his creative flow. He records the view of the castles of Stolzenfels and Lahneck in a quick sketch before crossing the river by boat to Lahnstein.

His route leads him on until he reaches the outskirts of Braubach. Never destroyed, the mighty Marksburg stands proudly on its rock, high above the Rhine. Turner records this view in three large sketches. He crosses the river once more by ferry and continues on his walk to St. Goar.

Rheinkarte London bis Boppard
 

Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, near Koblenz

 

Junction of the Lahn and the Rhine

 

Lahnstein

 

View of the Marksburg

 

Looking towards Osterspai and Filsen

Good preparation

The study trip to the Rhine was the first time Turner had ever ventured outside the British Isles on his own, so it is not surprising that he was well prepared.  In addition to reading the recommendations of the latest travel guides, he also made notes on the German language.

Turner’s packing list

Turner travelled as a foot passenger and carried only light luggage.  Luckily for us some of his belongings went missing during his tour of the Rhine in 1817 and so he made a note of what he had originally taken with him:  

  • 3 sketchbooks of different sizes
  • 1 wallet (a sack carried over the shoulder)
  • 1 travel guide: Charles Campbell’s “The Traveller’s Complete Guide through Belgium and Holland”
  • 3 shirts
  • 1 nightshirt
  • 1 umbrella with sleeve
  • 1 dozen pencils
  • 1 box of paints
  • 6 cravats
  • 1 towel
  • Stockings
  • Waistcoat
  • Razor

Destination: The Middle Rhine Valley

At the beginning of the 19th century the Middle Rhine was a major tourist attraction – particularly for the English.  After France’s Continental Blockade was lifted it was possible to travel through Europe once more.  Turner’s route was based on suggestions taken from two travel guides: John Gardnor’s “Views taken on and near the river Rhine” and Charles Campbell’s “The Traveller’s Complete Guide through Belgium and Holland”.

The search for inspiration

Turner is 42 years of age when he sets off on his journey to continental Europe in 1817.  He has already made a name for himself as a respected artist.  Inspired by Lord Byron’s narrative poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, he follows his yearning for places he has never seen and the allure of raw, untamed nature.

Boppard – St. Goar

»A brisk walk«

Turner has completed just over half the day’s 40 kilometre walk when he reaches Boppard. He is quite taken with the lively little town. He is particularly interested in the local townsfolk and the bustling scene by the river. Here, too, Turner makes numerous sketches.

His path leads him onwards along the riverbank, taking him past the castles of Sterrenberg and Liebenstein, also known as the »hostile brothers«. As the day draws to a close there is hardly any time left to capture Burg Maus on paper. A few drawings later, after a long and sometimes arduous trudge, he reaches the town of St. Goar.

Rheinkarte Turnerroute Boppard bis St. Goar
 

Boppard

 

The »Hostile Brothers«

 

Hirzenach

 

Castle Maus

The »Route Napoleon«

As the name suggests, Napoleon Bonaparte had this road built in 1803. Running along the left bank of the Rhine, this broad, flood-free thoroughfare made travel much easier for tourists and tradespeople. On his first visit to the Rhine Turner followed this route most of the time. On the right bank walkers were forced to take the route over the hills for part of the way.

Ingenious or ungifted

During his lifetime Turner was a successful, albeit controversial artist.  Patrons such as Walter Fawkes and the general public loved Turner’s historicised landscapes.  Later on, his increasing abstraction came in for criticism.  His execution of dramatic light situations was particularly hotly debated.

Sketches as snapshots

Turner keeps a meticulous record of his travel experiences in his sketchbooks.  He sketches buildings, hill ranges, castles and precise topographic details as well as impressions of the local people and life on the river.  Back in his London studio and using his numerous sketches for inspiration, Turner produces 51 watercolours alone for his patron Walter Fawkes.

Mythos Loreley (EN)

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St. Goar

»In the Valley of the Loreley«

Like Koblenz, St. Goar was also to become an important waypoint on Turner’s journey. Armed with three sketchbooks and a dozen pencils, he spends the whole Sunday exploring the town and the surrounding area. The steep rocks of the castles Katz and Rheinfels afford him spectacular views of the gently flowing river and the narrow valley. Turner is particularly captivated by the beauty of the formidable Loreley rock. Its imposing form will become one of the most significant motifs of his journey. Turner records his impressions from more than seven different viewpoints.

Rheinkarte Turnerroute St. Goar
 

Castle Rheinfels

 

Rheinfels Castle, View over St. Goar

 

View from Castle Katz at Castle Rheinfels

 

Castle Katz and St. Goarshausen

 

Loreley

 

Loreley

 

Loreley

Katz und Maus (EN)

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Along the towpaths

Horse-drawn boat at Mouse Tower in Bingen, pen and ink drawing by Wenzel Hollar, 1636 On long stretches of his walking tour Turner used the towpaths along the Rhine.  Teams of barge-horses and their handlers towed the boats upstream along the specially constructed towpath.  Boats were towed until the mid 19th century and later in some places.  On old engravings and paintings the barge-horses and their riders in the idyllic landscape have an almost romantic quality.  But in reality the working conditions for man and beast were extremely gruelling and difficult, and anything but picturesque.

Turner’s modern painting technique

John Ruskin (19th century social philosopher) said of Turner’s way of painting: “It is as if the artist dips his brush in light itself.”  And the British artist did indeed devote himself entirely to the subject of light in all its manifold facets and nuances.  Turner used opaque white to lay a thin veil of mist over sketchy areas of colour, giving his paintings a moody, atmospheric quality.

The Pfalz at Kaub

Built on a small island in the Rhine, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle was originally a toll station.  It was one of Turner’s favourite subjects and he made numerous studies of it.  Only a few years earlier, during the Wars of Liberation of 1813/14, the Prussian Field Marshall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher had crossed the Rhine at the castle with 60,000 soldiers, 20,000 horses and 200 pieces of artillery, in pursuit of Napoléon Bonaparte’s troops.  The castle remained a toll station until the Austro-Prussian War, after which it was used as a signal station for shipping on the Rhine up until the 1960s.  Today Burg Pfalzgrafenstein is owned by the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate and is open to the public via a ferry service from Kaub.

St. Goar – Bingen

»An arduous journey«

On the morning of 25th August Turner cheerfully packs up his belongings. The longest and most difficult stage of his journey lies ahead. He completes the 56 kilometres to Mainz in two stages. Walking along the towpath on the west bank of the Rhine he soon reaches the town of Oberwesel and the view of Kaub with its island castle »Pfalzgrafenstein«. He sketches continuously, capturing landscapes, small villages and the numerous ruined castles in precise strokes. After an exhausting trek he finally reaches Bingen.

 

View of Oberwesel

 

Castle Pfalzgrafenstein near Kaub

 

Bacharach

 

Castle Fürstenberg

 

Castles near Bacharach

 

The Klemenskapelle with Castle Rheinstein

 

Bingen from the Nahe

 

Mäuseturm and Castle Ehrenfels

 

The Binger Loch

 

Castle Ehrenfels and Mäuseturm

Entstehung der »Rheinromantik« (EN)

Licht und Farbe (EN)

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Goethe’s Theory of Colours

Turner’s most interesting watercolours in terms of colour were painted after 1840.  Turner’s friend and fellow artist Charles Lock Eastlake had translated Goethe’s “Theory of Colours” (dating from 1810) into English and published it in London in 1840.  Having studied in depth the emotional effect of colours as presented in Goethe’s approach, Turner now devotes himself exclusively to this subject.  Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, in particular, serves him on many occasions as a model for dissolving form in colour.

Bingen – Mainz – London

»Return to England«

At Bingen the landscape changes. Here the river broadens out and becomes calm – it no longer offers Turner the picturesque motifs which have captivated him on his walking tour. The weary traveller now boards a boat for the last stage of his journey to Mainz. On deck Turner enjoys the rest and the views of the passing countryside. He makes significantly fewer sketches.

On Wednesday 27th August, having spent a day in Mainz, Turner sets off on his homeward journey to England. Initially travelling by boat, Turner embarks on the 830 kilometre journey home. His sketchbooks are filled to the brim. He uses up any free spaces to record fleeting impressions during the boat trip which offers him new perspectives of familiar motifs. After short overnight stays at St. Goar, Koblenz and Cologne, he arrives back home in London on Monday 1st September 1817.

London

»A travel experience with lasting effects«

Turners Reiseeindrücke und Zeichnungen füllen drei Skizzenbücher. Die Wintermonate wird Turner damit beschäftigt sein, seine Studien in beeindruckende Gemälde umzusetzen. Dabei entstanden 51 Aquarelle alleine für seinen Auftraggeber Walter Fawkes. Die Serie gehört zu seinen Schönsten und hatte großen Einfluss auf die Werke späterer Jahre. Turners Gemälde wurden an Förderer und Sammler verkauft oder erreichten als Stahlradierungen ein noch größeres Publikum. Heute findet man sie in Museen und Privatsammlungen auf der ganzen Welt.

A significant journey

Turner’s Rhine tour of 1817 – one of his first trips abroad – was not only a professional triumph, but a personal one as well. It gave him the confidence to venture out again on ambitious expeditions, year after year. The inspiration he drew from these journeys and the endless repertoire of sketches provided the foundations for his artistic development. With his extensive oeuvre on the Middle Rhine Valley, William Turner is one of the most influential personalities of Rhine Romanticism.

Turner’s Rhine tour of 1817 – one of his first trips abroad – was not only a professional triumph, but a personal one as well. It gave him the confidence to venture out again on ambitious expeditions, year after year. The inspiration he drew from these journeys and the endless repertoire of sketches provided the foundations for his artistic development. With his extensive oeuvre on the Middle Rhine Valley, William Turner is one of the most influential personalities of Rhine Romanticism.