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Travel

200 years ago: Turner on the Rhine

The English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner is considered one of the fathers of Rhine romanticism. 200 years after his first trip to the river, tourists can stand on the spots where he captured his views.

An English painter travels along the Middle Rhine Valley on foot and in boats. The greatest concentration of castles in the world, steep vineyards and picturesque old towns: he sketches many views of the valley as a basis for the watercolors he will later paint in England. It's now 200 years since Turner first arrived on the Rhine. He's considered one of the most important British painters, and some of his work the epitome of Rhine Romanticism. Turner (1775-1851) was a master of light. HIs landscapes anticipate the later Impressionist style - and contributed to the popularity in England of the Rhine Valley as a travel destination. The tourism industry plans to make the most of the anniversary. Commemorative plaques set into the ground are to mark the spots from which he captured the landscape, and a website will supply information. 

Playing with light

On 19 August 1817 Joseph Mallord William Turner spent his first day on the Rhine near Cologne. He traveled further upstream to Mainz and back, climbed up to castles and also sketched in boats on the water. On 31 August 1817 the painter left the Rhine Valley, taking back with him many sketches of castles, churches, cliffs and vineyards. 

William Turner The Lorelei Rock NUR BIS 30.7.2018 VERWENDBAR (The Bridgeman Art Library)

"The Lorelei Rock" by J.M.W Turner (1817)

Present-day artist Armin Thommes from St. Goar has walked in Turner's footsteps in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site between Koblenz and Bingen and found 26 places from which he sketched.

Deutschland Rhein Wandern auf der Turner-Route (DW/A. Termeche)

Armin Thommes on the Turner Route

In 1817, Turner had several sketchbooks in his baggage. "He had drawn a great many studies, including small ones, for instance, of parts of buildings," Thommes reports. Turner made an especially large number of sketches in St. Goarshausen and St. Goar in the heart of the present-day World Heritage Site, near the world-famous Lorelei Rock. Because of that, as Sara Scheer from the Upper Middle Rhine Valley World Heritage Association explains, by early summer three of the 23 plaques will be laid. The others will gradually follow. According to Scheer, they are of very high quality and cost nearly 10,000 euros apiece.

Rheinlandschaft von William Turner (picture-alliance/dpa/Courtauld Galerie/PR Agentur Sue Bond)

"St Goarshausen and  Katz Castle." watercolor by J.M.W. Turner (1817)

Each of the circular bronze plaques with a diameter of one meter, explanatory inscription and the QR code for the planned website displays a stylized Turner sketch. In addition each features a pair of engraved footprints. "Tourists can stand in them to get the view Turner had," Scheer explains. "It's an easily accessible invitation, even for people who have never heard of him." This will be supplemented by brochures in hotels, restaurants and museums. "We want once again to emphasize the valley where Rhine Romanticism originated as an artistic backdrop," she says. 

Bolstering cultural tourism 

Several of Turner's vantage points still exist. Others have long been blocked by trees or buildings. Turner, however, often also combined views like a collage, as he did at Oberwesel, Bacharach and Bingen, as Armin Thommes points out. "There are very few direct depictions - for instance, when he uses the Lorelei Rock and Maus Castle as subjects."  

Jugendherberge Burg Stahleck (picture-alliance/dpa/W.Allgöwer)

Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley World Heritage Association sees Turner as a starting point for more cultural tourism. "The writer Clemens Brentano can also be traced here. We want to extend the Via Brentano culture trail from Frankfurt to Bingen on to Koblenz," says expert Sara Scheer. Brentano was born in the present-day Koblenz district of Ehrenbreitstein. "Stickers could display handwritten quotations from Brentano, for example." With Turner and Brentano, romanticists from two countries, the plan is to attract cultural tourists from many countries to the picturesque Rhine River Valley. 

Jens Albes/ms (dpa)