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A Century of Giving

Joseph Mallord William Turner



watercolour, over graphite and black chalk, 23.6cm x 29.8cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: 2284

Three, small figures approach the city of Heidelberg on the River Neckar, surrounded by high wooded hills. In this atmospheric view by Turner, its ancient architecture is seen at dusk, rising out of the mist, through a glimmer of reflected lights.

Whilst many of Turner's contemporaries did not like this loose expressive style, John Ruskin - his great champion - believed these late alpine watercolours represented Turner's best works. 'The aim of the great inventive landscape painter,' he wrote, 'must be to give the far higher and deeper truth of mental vision rather than that of the physical facts'.

As a young man with a great love of medieval art, Cockerell had come under the spell of John Ruskin. He had seen and admired Ruskin's collection of Turner watercolours and drawings at his Lake District home.

In 1861, Ruskin had given the Fitzwilliam Museum 25 watercolour drawings by Turner. As Director, Cockerell was keen to build on this foundation. Over the years he used Friends' money - together with other gifts, funds and bequests - to develop and strengthen the Turner collection

This view of Heidelberg was one of the last works Cockerell acquired for the Museum before his retirement in 1937. By this time, he had bought eight Turner watercolours, and also four letters by Turner to his engraver, William Miller.

Cockerell also used the Friends' fund to purchase several watercolours by Ruskin himself - along with many by other British landscape painters, including Francis Towne, John Cotman and Thomas Girtin.

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