Joseph Mallord William Turner is considered one of Britain’s greatest landscape artists. The flow of his brush leant perfectly to Europe’s meandering rivers and ports, often lit by a glowing sun hovering above the horizon. It’s his use of light that brought him fame, with paintings like ‘The Fighting Temeraire’, a tribute to the tall-masted warship. He is also considered a father of Impressionism and Rhine Romanticism.
The talents of this London born artist (he never lost his cockney accent!) were noted early by his father who encouraged him. Turner studied art in academy schools, supplemented by working with architects and painting stage scenery. His interests gradually drew him out of London to take trips across Britain, before finally crossing the seas as an already established painter.
Turner & the Rhine
On 19 August 1817, Turner spent his first day on the Rhine, committing sketches of the riverbanks to his books. It was the first of many days he spent enjoying this beautiful waterway, capturing sights including the legendary Lorelei Rock.
During his time here, he would sketch in pencil or paint in watercolours from sunrise to sunset. He would sit on the banks to paint views of the castles already crumbling in the 19th century, and perfectly complimenting the natural colours and ruggedness of their surrounds. Or he would climb the banks to capture boats sailing by, or people working in the vineyards and lazing by the riverside.
Turner’s romantic images drew tourists to the Rhine in the 1800s, and still do today! While many of his views now have additional trees or buildings, or have weathered and aged, some of his views still exist. Some of his paintings however were created with a touch of artistic licence – changing the position of a castle or narrowing the banks.
Retrace Turner’s steps
Either way, you can follow ‘In the Footsteps of Turner’ to see the subjects that inspired him. View Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz, which Turner sketched in 1817 and reproduced in watercolours in 1841. Admire castles that captured his attention such as Rheinfels, Katz and Schönburg. And walk through beautiful towns including Rüdesheim, where he painted ‘View of the Binger Loch’. Its central point, Maus Tower, can still be seen on its tiny island in the Rhine.
You also sail through the Rhine Gorge, a beautiful area which inspired many of Turner’s works. Your cruise concludes in Cologne, where you can stroll along riverbanks which inspired his first oil painting of the Rhine – ‘The Arrival of the Packet Boat’. Look for the Church of Gross St Martin which sits just off-centre in his large, sunset-hued composition.