Lot 11
  • 11

Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A. 1775-1851

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
  • Oberwesel
  • Signed l.r.: JMWT. 1840
  • watercolour over pencil with bodycolour and scratching out
  • 354 by 533mm., 13 7/8 by 21 in.


Benjamin Godfrey Windus;
J. E. Fordham, by 1861;
John Leigh Clare, his sale Christie's London, 28th March 1868, lot 100 (bt. £903 Agnew's);
William Quilter, his sale Christie's London, 9th April 1875, lot 248 (unsold);
William Quilter, his sale Christie's London, 18th May 1889, lot 102 (bt Vokins);
Andrew G. Kurtz, his sale Christie's London, 11th May 1891, lot 195 (bt £21,00 McLean);
E. Steinkopff, his sale Christie's London, 24th May 1935, lot 54 (bt £630 Mitchell);
Lady Seaforth;
Anonymous sale, Christie's London, 6th June 1972, lot 145 (bt. £16,800 Leger);
Dr. Marc Fitch (by 1972);
with Richard Green Ltd


London, Royal Academy, 1974, no. 583;
London, Leger Galleries, The Fitch Collection, March - April 1988, no. 45;
London, Tate Gallery and Musee des Beaux-Arts d'lxelles, Brussels, Turner's Rivers of Europe: The Rhine, Meuse and Mosel, 1991/2, no. 30;
London, Royal Academy, Turner; The Great Watercolours, 2000, no 101, p. 222;


Walter Thornbury, Life of Turner, 1862, Vol. II, p. 398
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, 1979, p. 465, no. 1380; pp. 229,230 and 231;
Selby Wittingham, 'The Turner Collector: Benjamin Godfrey Windus 1790 - 1867', Turner Sudies, Vol. 7 (2) 1987, pp.29-35;
Andrew Wilton, Turner in His Time, 1987, p. 242; 
Cecilia Powell, Rivers of Europe: The Rhine, Meuse and Mosel, 1991, pp. 20, 53-4, 55, 56, 57;
Eric Shanes, Turner: The Great Watercolours, 2000, p. 222


James Tibbitts Willmore, 1842 for Finden's Royal Gallery of British Art, (R. 660)


This report has been prepared by: JANE McAUSLAND London office: Flat 3, 41 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1F 9AJ Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Accredited member of the Institute of Paper Conservation Jane McAusland Limited trading as Jane McAusland FIIC. Support: Turner has used a sheet of wove Whatman type paper to support this watercolour. At some point the work has been laid down onto another sheet, and inlaid into a false margin of thin card for display. The condition is good. Medium: The colours are very fresh and bright, though there is probably a little fading in the sky and on the left-hand side. Note: This work was viewed outside studio conditions.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Turner's viewpoint is from above Oberwesel looking south along the Rhine.  On the bank in the foreground are harvesters at work in the vineyards whilst mothers nurse babies and children surrounded by an accumulation of miscellaneous items - baskets, barrels, bottles, jars, blankets, a plate with an apple, and perhaps significantly, an un-needed shotgun.  Meanwhile in the mid distance, Turner has included a steamer whose smoke hangs in the unstirring air as it makes its way between Kaub and the Castle of Pfalz on an island. The weather is clear and still. It is a summer view of warmth, harmony, and peace.

It has been plausibly suggested that Turner had in mind Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage;
      Maternal Nature! For whom teems like thee
      Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine? [i]
Jan Pigott also suggests that the emphasis on grape picking and mothers suckling their babies was intended as a visual pun on the name of the local German hock Liebfraumilch, one of Rhineland's celebrated wines.

The overriding sense of calm and peaceful prosperity might also correspond with Turner's specific choice of this view which shows the crossing in the middle distance where Marshall Blücher had taken his troops in 1813 to find and defeat Napoleon and his armies.[ii] Furthermore, the river was most emotive for more than just the local inhabitants in 1840 and as Alexandre Dumas wrote in 1841, 'the Rhine is might; it is independence, it is liberty; it has passions like a man or rather like a God...It is an object of fear or hope, a symbol of love or hate, the principle of life and death.'[iii]

Turner's watercolour was the product of sketches made in 1839 when he drew views along two of the Rhine's tributaries, the Meuse and the Mosel. He then sketched the Rhine between Coblenz and Mainz where he had last drawn in 1817 (see lot 14). It was in 1839 though that he made sketches around Oberwesel and the present important work was based upon pencil studies in the 'Trèves to Cochem and Coblenz to Mayence' Sketchbook, and the 'Brussels up to Mannheim' Sketchbook.[iv]

In designing the composition however, Turner made adjustments to the actual view and the sketches he made in the year before have clearly been used for architectural detail but not the overall vista.  This has been expanded to suit the optimum composition, probably with a mind to a Claudian composition but also conceivably because of Turner's plan to show the Blücher crossing point.  As Cecilia Powell and Eric Shanes have noted, Turner has expanded certain features of Oberwesel, Schönburg Castle has been taken from the centre of the town further along the west bank for compositional reasons, while the Ochsturm Tower has been moved down river about a kilometre, again for balancing the overall composition.[v]  

This major work of 1840 was a companion to Lake Nemi (British Museum, Fig.1).[vi]  Both were owned by Benjamin Godfrey Windus (1790-1867), one of Turner's most significant patrons, who owned nearly two hundred watercolours by him of which this, and Lake Nemi, were among the most important, described by John Ruskin in the 2nd edition of Modern Painters as 'the glorious Oberwesel and Nemi' [vii]. The Gentleman's Magazine obituary written after Turner's death, stated "it is at Mr Windus's on Tottenham-Green that Turner is on his Throne. There he may be studied, understood and admired - not in half-a-dozen or twenty instances, but on scores upon scores of choice examples"[x].  Particularly noticeable with this watercolour, is the extent to which Turner has chosen to scratch the surface to achieve highlights. This, combined with a multitude of small brushstrokes, helps create an all embracing light with tremendous detail, 'vast pools of sparkling light.' [viii] Cecilia Powell joins Ruskin and others in her celebration of this watercolour, referring to 'a dazzling vision of the Rhine.. not only the culmination of Turner's many visits to this part of Europe but also one of the most outstanding of his late watercolours.' [ix]

Oberwesel was engraved by J.T.Willmore for Finden's Royal Gallery of British Art in 1842 (Fig. 2) and dedicated to Windus. The engraved image was still being published much later in Europe Illustrated (1876) and The Classic Lands of Europe (1879), and it became an iconic image of Germany, during a period of enormous expansion for illustrated publications illustrating countries abroad.

We are grateful to Cecilia Powell for her assistance in the cataloguing of this work.

[i]  Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, (Canto III, XLVI) as suggested by Jan Piggott, Turner's Vignettes, 1993, p.68, note 23

[ii] See, Cecilia Powell, Turner's Rivers of Europe, The Rhine, The Meuse and The Mosel, 1991, p. 20

[iii] Alexandre Dumas, Excursions sur les Bords du Rhin,1841, p.239-40

[iv] The 'Trèves to Cochem and Coblenz to Mayence' Sketchbook (TB CCXC 55-58, especially 56), and 'Brussels up to Mannheim' Sketchbook (TB CCXVI)

[v] Cecilia Powell and Eric Shanes, lit.op.cit., 2000, p. 222

[vi] Andrew Wilton, lit.op.cit., 1979, p. 466, no. 1381, British Museum ( no. 1958-7-12-444)

[vii] John Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1851-60, Ed.1-4, p. 256

[viii] As quoted by Selby Wittingham in "The Turner Collector: Benjamin Godfrey Windus 1790-1867," Turner Studies, Winter 1987, vol.7., no. 2

[ix] Cecilia Powell, lit.op.cit., 1991, p. 118

[x]  Cecilia Powell, lit.op..cit., 1991, p. 118