JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R.A. (LONDON 1775-1851)
JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R.A. (LONDON 1775-1851)
JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R.A. (LONDON 1775-1851)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PROMINENT PRIVATE COLLECTION
JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R.A. (LONDON 1775-1851)

Heidelberg, with a Rainbow

Details
JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R.A. (LONDON 1775-1851)
Heidelberg, with a Rainbow
signed ‘JMW Turner’ (lower left, on mile post)
pencil and watercolour, heightened with bodycolour, and with scratching out on paper
13 5⁄8 x 20 3⁄4 in. (34.7 x 52.8 cm.)




Provenance
Commissioned by Thomas Abiel Prior (1809-1886) in 1840 for 100 gns.
Benjamin Godfrey Windus (1790-1867).
with P&D Colnaghi, London, by 21 June 1847.
Joseph Gillott (1799-1872); Christie’s, London, 4 May 1872, lot 512 (2650 gns. to Lane).
William Ward (1817-1885), 1st Earl of Dudley.
Christie’s, London, private sale (with the large watercolour of Grenoble) on behalf of Lord Dudley, 30 November 1892 (£2,500 for the two drawings).
with Agnew & Sons, London, sold on 7 December 1892.
Stephen G. Holland (1817-1908); Christie’s, London, 26 June 1908, lot 257 (4200 gns. to Agnew).
with Agnew's, London.
Sir Donald Currie (1825-1909), and by descent to his daughter,
Elizabeth (1858-1930), afterwards Mrs Percy Alport Molteno, and by descent until 2001.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 14 June 2001, lot 11.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2013, lot 101, when acquired by the present owners.
Literature
W. Armstrong, Turner, London, 1902, p. 257, as ‘Heidelberg, with Rainbow, 1840-45’.
J. Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1843, part II, section II, chapter III, p. 175 (reprinted in E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London, 1903, III, p. 308; see also, 1904, XIII, p.l, which transcribes a letter to his father, 23 January 1852, in which he listed Heidelberg among the works he would not wish to buy; (see also Bradley 1955⁄78).
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of JMW Turner, R.A., London, 1913, II, pp. 206, 343, no. 663.
J.L. Bradley, ed., Ruskins Letters from Venice 1851-2, New Haven, 1955⁄1978, pp. 147-148.
E. Joll, Agnews 150th Anniversary Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolours by JMW Turner, London, 1967, p. 89, no. 81.
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, London, 1979, p. 465, no. 1377, reprint, p. 235.
S. Whittingham, ‘Public and Private Collections’, Turner Studies, V, no. 1, Summer 1985, p. 63.
S. Whittingham, ‘What you Will; or some notes regarding the influence of Watteau on Turner and other British Artists’, Turner Studies, V, no. 2, Summer 1958, p. 39.
A. Wilton, Turner, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 1986, pp. 236 and 286.
E. Yardley, ‘Picture Note: Heidelberg from the opposite bank of the Neckar’, Turner Studies, VI, no. 1, 1986, p. 58.
J. Chapel, ‘Turner Collector: Joseph Gillott’, Turner Studies, VI, no. 2, 1986, pp. 46 and 50, no. 41.
S. Whittingham, ‘Turner Collector: Benjamin Godfrey Windus’, Turner Studies, VII, no. 2, 1987, pp. 30 and 32, notes 40, and 35.
E. Shanes, ‘Picture Note: The Library at Tottenham, the Seat of B.G. Windus, showing his collection of Turner watercolours’, Turner Studies, III, no. 2, 1984, p. 56.
C. Powell, Turners Rivers of Europe. The Rhine, Meuse and Mosel, London, 1991, p. 121.
C. Powell, Turner in Germany, London, 1995, pp. 196-8, no. 127; reproduced as the front cover of the German edition of the book.
C. Nugent and M. Croal, Turner Watercolours from Manchester, Manchester, 1997, p. 108.
E. Shanes, Turner, The Great Watercolours, London, 2000, p. 224 no. 102, detail reproduced pp. 226-7.
C. Powell, ‘Heidelberg,’ in E. Joll, M. Butlin and L. Herrmann, eds., The Oxford Companion of J.M.W. Turner, London, 2001, pp. 137-8.
C. Powell, ed., Turner Society News, no. 119, Spring 2013.
D. Hill, ‘In Turner’s Footsteps at Heidelberg’, see commentaries published on sublimesites.co for 19 October, 18 November, and 20 November 2015.
Exhibited
London, Agnew's, 1908, no. 167.
London, Agnew's, 1909, no. 31.
London, Agnew & Sons, Centenary Exhibition of Water Colour Drawings of JMW Turner, RA, 1951, no. 114.
London, Agnew & Sons, Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolours by JMW Turner, 1967, no. 81.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Zwei Jahrhunderte der Englischen Malerie 1700-1900, 1979-1980, no. 213.
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, 1980-2001, on long-term loan.
Paris, Grand Palais, J.M.W. Turner, 1983-1984, no. 240.
Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, and Kyoto, Municipal Museum of Art, Turner, 1986, no. 95.
London, Tate Gallery, Turner in Germany, 1995, no. 127.
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Turner in Deutschland, 1995-1996, no. 127.
London, Royal Academy, Turner. The Great Watercolours, 2000-2001, no. 102.
Winona, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 2013-2022, on long-term loan.

Special notice

This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Turner’s fondness in his later years for Venice and Switzerland is well known. But another name should be added to these hallowed places: Heidelberg. Turner visited the city on at least four occasions between 1833 and 1844, resulting in a batch of magically ethereal sketches, as well as a couple of the greatest watercolours of his last years. That latter group includes this, his most atmospheric depiction of the city, which has been described as ‘one of the most extraordinary productions of the peak of his career’. The watercolour also has the distinction of setting new auction records for Turner’s works on paper on three occasions: 1908, 2001 and 2013.
Heidelberg proved a popular subject for artists during the nineteenth century, and was depicted by many of Turner’s compatriots, such as William James Muller, who first encountered the city at roughly the same period (fig.1). One contemporary writer proposed that ‘A true landscape painter could live and die in Heidelberg. Every subject for his art is combined (and in perfection) in the environs’.
Its attractive setting, nestled between hills on the southern bank of the Neckar, not far from where the river joins the Rhine, had given it a strategic significance for traders passing between Mainz and Strasbourg going back to Roman times. Its University is one of the oldest in Germany, founded in 1386 by the Elector Palatine. Squatting picturesquely above the rooftops of the town is the castle. The origins of the fortress date back to Prince Elector Ruprecht III in the early fifteenth century, although the structure was subsequently greatly expanded and enriched as a palace, with attractive gardens, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the former occupants was James I’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who married Elector Frederick V in 1613. They were afterwards known as the Winter King and Queen, having only ruled Bohemia for one year, prior to the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. During that period of conflict the castle sustained repeated assaults that blasted and damaged its fabric, and it was not until the 19th century that restoration began. So it was still a ruin during the time of Turner’s visits and much later. Writing about Heidelberg in 1880, Mark Twain noted, ‘A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed’.
Turner certainly explored the impact of the castle’s silhouette from all points of the compass, most notably when he first encountered it in 1833, and yet again on his final visit in 1844. But while the castle and its garden terraces on the surrounding hillside are inevitably the principal focus of Turner’s views of Heidelberg, his familiarity with the full range of the city’s landmarks and its environs informs this watercolour, imbuing the topography with the telling details of observed experience (see Powell, 1995, pp. 208-14, 247).
In his recent research into Turner’s rendering of the setting David Hill has noted that the riverbank, which forms the bustling foreground of the watercolour, is still a gathering place for residents and visitors at the end of the afternoon, when the lowering sunlight casts its splendour on the castle walls (Hill 2015). Turner provides a fascinating cross-section here of Heidelberg’s inhabitants, with a notable disparity between those labouring and those at leisure. While numerous women are shown scrubbing and pounding their laundry, or caring for children, the men fish idly, water their horses, or smoke and attempt to engage the women’s attention. Some of these youths are students wearing the historic costumes that the University continued to retain for academic life in the nineteenth century.
Away from the castle, the viewer’s eye is principally held by the nine-arched bridge, constructed in 1788 using the same glowing sandstone as the castle on the foundations of a sequence of former attempts to straddle the river going back to the medieval period, though the Romans had crossed the Neckar at this point even earlier. Where the bridge lands on the southern bank of the river, the route passes under a sixteenth-century arch topped by twin towers. To the right of these towers (their height slightly exaggerated by Turner) is the soaring spire of the Heiliggeistkirche, and still further to the right is the baroque façade of the Jesuitenkirche (not augmented by its own bell tower until the early 1870s), and, at the edge of the image, the smaller tower of the Providenzkirche. Turner had, of course, previously surveyed other populous towns and cities, such as the views of Nantes and Saumur painted for the annual Keepsake journal. But his ambition in this view of Heidelberg is on a bigger scale and the result more detailed and stylistically nuanced.
The watercolour was apparently commissioned in 1840 as a one-off project by the engraver Thomas Abiel Prior (1809-86), previously a purveyor of sporting subjects and an interpreter of the topographical scenes of Thomas Allom and W.H. Bartlett. Undaunted by the time and expense of undertaking a large-scale print, or the challenges of meeting Turner’s well-known exacting demands on his print-makers, Prior also had the audacity to proffer his own sketch as the basis for the composition. Now lost, it may have pinpointed Prior’s preferred viewpoint. But in any case Turner was able to supplement it with the sketches he had himself made during his visit in 1833 (fig.2).
He returned to Heidelberg on his way to Venice in 1840, and had been at work on the design before the following March, when he annotated a large study with what seems to be a record of a financial transaction (fig.3). This large sheet is a first draft of the scene, but he subsequently gave various features greater prominence in the finished design; for example, the church. It is possible that the dated pencil inscription indicates that the watercolour had already been completed and delivered. Nevertheless, Turner sketched at Heidelberg once again while travelling from Switzerland in the summer of 1841, which perhaps contributed to the process of developing or resolving the design. Having said that, the rudimentary nature of those sketches suggest he could have been merely verifying the accuracy of his previous observations.
It is known that Prior paid Turner 100 guineas when he received the watercolour, but the actual date was not recorded. His work creating the engraved version of the image would have taken several years, alongside the other plates he had in hand as a means of maintaining an income. But it was not until July 1846 that impressions of Heidelberg were available for the critics of the art journals. Both the Examiner (4 July) and the Morning Post (30 July) were really enthusiastic about the finished result. The former publication in an extended appraisal noted, ‘It is the coup d’essai of the engraver, who, we learn, purchased the picture, and has devoted the greater part of three years to the completion of his work, in order to shew the powers latent in him ... The success with which Mr Prior has re-produced the conception of the painter as a whole, and the felicity with which he has rendered his richest and most delicate effects, warrant him a true artist.’ The Morning Post wrote in much the same vein, praising the subject: ‘This exquisite combination of natural and artificial charms, Mr Turner has reflected on his canvas with a genius congenial to the place, and in the engraving before us Mr Prior has reproduced the whole delightful prospect with an art so consummate that the absence of colour is forgotten, and the spectator gazes with charmed eye upon the crystal wave, the sleepy town, the formidable castle, the high hills – all bathed in streams of light, and conveying to the mind the impression of nature in her loveliest, most poetic, aspect’. Further testimony to the success of Turner’s image in its engraved form can be found in a number of copies made by amateur artists during the later nineteenth century, generally created without any reference to the prismatic colours of the watercolour itself. But Turner also created a second, slightly larger watercolour version, perhaps on demand, though the details of its origins and early history remain obscure (now at Manchester City Art Gallery).
By the time the present watercolour was on display at Colnaghi’s in June 1847, as a means of promoting the engravings, it was already known to have been sold to Benjamin Godfrey Windus, whose collection of Turner’s mature works was one of the finest put together during the artist’s lifetime. One of the few contemporaries to whom Heidelberg did not appeal was John Ruskin, who preferred Turner's studies. But after leaving Windus’ collection, it has become a pre-eminent example of Turner’s work in watercolour, repeatedly attracting some of the most illustrious Turner collectors, each ready to outbid their rivals in order to secure their trophy.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.
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