Turner made three visits to the Rhine, of which the Mosel is a tributary. On the first, in 1817, he only passed the end of the Mosel, at Coblenz. The second tour, which has been redated by Powell to 1824 rather than 1826 (op. cit, p. 30), included the Mosel from Metz down to the Rhine, as did the third, again redated by Cecilia Powell from 1834 to 1839. This last visit produced a series of some eighty brilliant sketches of the Meuse and the Mosel in bodycolor on blue paper, including the present example. The present drawing is remarkable, however, for having retained the blue pigments in the paper to such an extent, giving it an overall freshness that is extremely rare in watercolors of this type. Unlike similar works showing the Loire and the Seine, these were not engraved, and the majority have remained in the Turner Bequest, now at Tate Britain, with a few in private collections (see Powell, op. cit., pp. 45-84 & 127-49, especially nos. 47-82). The preparatory sketches, including that for the present watercolor (fig. 1), are in the 'Trier to Cochem, and Coblenz to Mayenne' Sketchbook (Tate Britain, TB CCXC).
Unlike two other bodycolor views of Bernkastel and Kues in this series (Powell, op, cit., nos. 52 & 53; the former in a Private Collection, the second illustrated as fig. 2) this view is taken from the river itself, looking back downstream at the two villages. The sketch shows a flying bridge (no longer extant) in the center of the river, although in the finished watercolor the platform has been moved further to the right to heighten the impact of the sweep of white buildings on the left. The operation of a bridge of this kind was described by C.E. Dodd in 1818. It was:
a spacious round platform, railed in, and placed upon a couple of stout barges. It is attached by a long chain to a boat moored higher in the middle of the river, so that it swings in the stream at this chain's length. When filled with passengers, it is shoved off from the Quay, and its own impulse carries it to the other side. In this way it keeps up its monotonous swing, like the pendulum of a clock' (C.E. Dodd, An autumn near the Rhine; or, Sketches of courts, society, scenery etc. in some of the German states bordering on the Rhine, London, 1818, p. 434).
An earlier, independent watercolor of almost the same view can be dated to circa 1830 (Stadt Bernkastel-Kues; see C. Powell, Turner in Germany, exhibition catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, 1995-96, pp. 108-9, no. 23, illustrated in color). This has a group of figures and a dog in the foreground, and the building on the right, identified as the hospital at Kues, is much simpler in form. It is based on drawings done on the 1824 visit in the 'Rhine, Meuse and Moselle' and 'Moselle (or Rhine)' Sketchbooks (TB CCXVI 104 verso - 106 recto and CCXIX 15 verso - 21 recto).
John Ruskin (1819-1900) gave this watercolor as a gift to his pupil John Wharlton Bunney (d. 1882). It is said that, after Bunney's death, his widow approached Ruskin and asked whether he would like her to return this, among other Turners that he had given to her late husband. Ruskin generously replied that she should keep the Turners: if she should ever be in need of money, she could draw upon their commercial value. The drawing remained in the Bunney family until 1956, when it was sold in these Rooms. Its appearance at auction in such excellent condition excited a great deal of interest and the watercolor performed well above its estimate of £120-150, finally being sold for 220 gns (£231) to Agnew's. Its appeal may be described succinctly: everything is reduced to essentials and yet the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.
The present drawing was once owned by Sir Robert Mayer, the distinguished philanthropist and musical benefactor. One of the founders of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932, Sir Robert also had the honor of being the oldest person to be knighted, being made a Knight Bachelor by the Queen on his 100th birthday. His centenary, in 1979, was also celebrated with a gala concert given by Royal Command at the Royal Festival Hall.
The present drawing is on a flecked blue wove watercolor paper made by George Steart.
We are grateful to Cecilia Powell for pointing out the conflation in Wilton, op. cit., of this watercolor with the View down the Mosel from the Hillside above Pallien (circa 1839, illustrated in Powell, op. cit., p. 132), and to Peter Bower for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.