A year after presenting Dieppe at the Royal Academy, Turner exhibited Cologne. A former Roman colony and a free imperial city during the Holy Roman Empire, Cologne had long been a major commercial, educational, and religious center. Situated on the banks of the Rhine, Cologne was still largely medieval in appearance when Turner visited. Only a small section of the city is visible in his painting: the tower and spire of the church of Gross St. Martin piercing the evening sky, with defensive towers, walls, and the customs house leading up to it. The laboring women in peasant dress and the abandoned fishing contraption contribute to a sense of time standing still. The ferry boat carrying female tourists to shore is about to break the spell. One critic noted that “it is impossible to shut our eyes to the wonderful skill, and to the lightness and brilliancy which he [Turner] has effected.”
Source: Paintings in The Frick Collection: American, British, Dutch, Flemish and German. Volume I. New York: The Frick Collection, 1968.