David Roberts, although best known for his prolific series of prints of Egypt and the near East, was a man of many parts. He was trained as a house-painter and decorater, swiftly moving into becoming a designer and painter of stage scenery for the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, which is where he developed his meticulous attention to detail. He also developed friendships with Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851), Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841), Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873), and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) became his patron. His area of expertise was topographical and architectural painting, demonstrating accurate perspective and detail, a huge achievement given that he was self-taught. As with many of his contemporaries, he regularly went on sketching expeditions abroad, drawing what he saw from life, and finishing the compositions once back in his studio, and often many years after the original sketches were executed. His pictures were frequently exhibited at the British Institution and the Royal Academy, and, unlike many of his less fortunate contemporaries, he generally sold everything that he painted.
Roberts spent a great deal of time during the 1830s and 1850s travelling through Northern Europe, often in the company of his fellow artists such as John Ruskin (1819-1900). He visited Belgium and France several times, and also went to the Netherlands, and in 1830 he travelled up the Rhine in Germany.
Kurfürstliche Burg (or Castle), in Eltville, stands proudly alongside the river in the middle Rhine area and was built in 1330 by Balduin von Trier. It became the home of the Archbishop, which probably accounts for the fact that the present watercolour has often been misdescribed as depicting 'The Archduke's Palace at Mainz'.
The towers of both Robert's building and the actual castle are particularly alike in their positioning and numbers of the windows, the curved cornicing underneath the top floor, the four turrets in the corners, and in the fact that the riverside turrets are shorter than the ones further inland. The tower was added in 1682 after the Thirty Years War, and the castle also features a beautiful rose garden and a four-hundred-year-old well.
We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.