Burg Eltz is a well preserved castle crowning an over two hundred-foot high rock overlooking the valley of the river of the same name, about four miles from the point at which it joins the Mosel at Moselheim. It has belonged to the Counts of Eltz since the 12th Century; the family divided into three branches in the 13th Century but all shared the castle as joint heirs, up to a hundred members of the family living in much the same number of rooms. The hill opposite is occupied by the ruins of Trutz Eltz or Baldeneltz, a castle built in 1331 by Archbishop Baldwin of Trier who forced the Eltzs to surrender two years later, but Burg Eltz has, unusually for the area, never been destroyed by force. By the time of Turner's visits Burg Eltz was already attracting tourists, and a special viewing platform had been built above Trutz Eltz. (For Turner and Burg Eltz see Powell, op.cit., pp. 65, 73, 151-2, 183-4; this revises the information given in the same author's catalogue, Turner's Rivers of Europe, London, Tate Gallery, 1991, p. 48).
Although Turner had already visited the Rhine and the Mosel previously he did not make the detour to Burg Eltz until 1839, after which he paid a second visit, almost certainly in 1841. Each visit led to a small group of watercolours on grey paper. Two of 1840, relatively richly coloured and measuring approximately 5½ x 7½ inches, are in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain (TB CCXCII- 8 and 41; see Powell, 1995, pp. 151-2, nos. 76 and 77, illustrated in colour); They are part of a larger group of drawings, similar in size and treatment, and including subjects from Cochem and Ehrenbreitstein (see Powell, 1995, pp. 145 - 55, nos. 67-81, illustrated, some in colour).
The works in the second group, done circa 1841-2, are somewhat larger, approximately 6¼ x 9 inches, and are distinct in treatment, less finished, less colourful and with a considerable use of a reddish-brown ink and scratching out; the present work is typical. Moreover, whereas the drawings in the first group show the castle from above, those in the second are mainly seen from below (see A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 460, nos. 1333-5, illustrated, and Powell, 1995, pp. 183-4, nos. 111 and 112, illustrated in colour. As well as the three works in private collections recorded by Andrew Wilton, Powell mentions two more as having been sold at Sotheby's, New York, on 21 November 1980 and 22 May 1986; that the present work was in the first of these sales is confirmed by the vendor.
Not surprisingly the histories of the various watercolours of Burg Eltz are fairly confused, but the present drawing seems to have been in the U.S.A. for at least 75 years.
The backboard bears a label of the Cotswold Gallery in London (run by Hilda Finberg, wife of the Turner scholar, A.J. Finberg). The gallery exhibited at least two, if not more, drawings of Berg Eltz between 1930 and 1935. The catalogue entry which probably refers to the present drawing is that described as showing Schloss Eltz with the ruins of the Baldeneltz or Trutz Eltz; the dimensions are variously given as approximately 6¼ x 9¼ ins., and one catalogue gives the medium as 'pen, pencil, water-colour and knife on grey paper'. This seems to have been shown in three exhibitions in 1931 or 2[?], 1933 and 1935. This however conflicts with another label suggesting that our drawing was shown at the Fogg Museum in 1931 as well as in the 1940s. Less precisely described in the Cotswold Gallery catalogues was a view of Scholz Eltz, on the Moselle [sic] included in two exhibitions in 1930. To add to the confusion, the Sotheby's catalogue of 1980 conflates the history of the present drawing with that of A. Wilton, op.cit., no. 1335.