“Are any British here?” – English Visitors to the Rhine and Moselle

The exhibition runs from Saturday 27th February 2016 – 12th June 2016

Official opening: Friday 26th February 2016, 7pm

Even Goethe’s Mephisto was aware of the phenomenon when, in Faust II, he enquires:

Are any British here? They’re usually great travellers,

Looking for battlefields and waterfalls,

Dilapidated walls and dreary ancient sites;

This is an ideal place for them to visit.”

English artists were among the first to discover the picturesque scenery of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. They had been visiting the region since the end of the 18th century. Only one year after the Battle of Waterloo (1815) the first steamship voyage was made from London to Cologne and that same year, 1816, the English poet Lord Byron also journeyed to the Rhine and sang the praises of the Drachenfels rock. His lines about the “Castled Crag of Drachenfels” inspired countless numbers of English tourists to visit the Rhine between Cologne and Mainz. He could count on a public whose tastes had been cultivated by the so-called “Dark Romanticism” of the 18th century, which found its expression in numerous “Gothic novels”. These immensely popular novels were set in eerie ruined castles, derelict monasteries and among the nooks and crannies of ancient town walls. The valleys of the Rhine and Moselle with their old towns and countless castles offered the perfect setting for novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The first English artists who visited the Rhine before the Napoleonic era portrayed the landscape accordingly, using exaggerated perspectives, their hills resembling alpine peaks and their valleys plunging, precipitous ravines. During Napoleonic times there were hardly any artists to be found on the Rhine. Their numbers increased again only after 1815 – and the increase was dramatic. They made sketches of the Rhine for a rapidly expanding market and produced views in response to a growing demand for illustrated guidebooks. At the end of the 1820s there were already more than 26000 English visitors to the Rhine each year and they became one of the mainstays of the budding tourism industry.

They were followed by scores of artists, all eager to satisfy the public’s appetite for romantic views of the Rhine. Clarkson Stanfield and his son George were two of them, and for over 40 years they sketched the Rhine and its tributaries, the rivers Lahn and Moselle. In the mid 1830s these Rhenish views were an indispensible feature of the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy in London, which in some years would show up to 35 Rhenish landscapes.

One of the most characteristic focal points on the Rhine was the Fortress of Ehrenbreitstein. For historical reasons and due to its role in the war against Napoleon, Ehrenbreitstein was a household name in England. The exhibition offers its own perspective through the works of James Webb (1825-1895), George Clarkson Stanfield (1828-1878) and William Callow (1812-1908), and exploring a variety of different artistic approaches from Realism to the Fantastical.

In addition to the artists of the Royal Academy, the watercolourists, too, played an important part in the reception of the Rhine in England. In their particularly fine and highly detailed views, they also documented the less popular motifs along the Rhine and Moselle, which are all the more interesting for today’s viewer. These artists included Thomas Miles Richardson (1813 -1890), the previously mentioned William Callow, but also Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), who had already made a first visit to the Rhine in 1817. The exhibition shows one of his works from the period around 1830, which is based on a sketch he made on his first trip to the Moselle in 1824.

In cooperation with the Sammlung RheinRomantik Bonn, the Siebengebirgsmuseum Königswinter and other public and private lenders, the exhibition explores this phenomenon with the help of numerous paintings, sketches and watercolours, supplemented by English travel guides and written accounts by English authors.