Sublime Sites

Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill

Turner in Switzerland #2:Lucerne by Moonlight

REVISED VERSION WITH NEW PHOTOS, JUNE 2014

This article seeks to give some consideration to a well-known, but relatively-little-discussed watercolour by Turner, Lucerne by Moonlight at the British Museum, London (note 1). Given that it is widely considered to be one of the most important of a great late series of Swiss subjects from the 1840s, when Turner was in the last decade of his life, it is perhaps surprising that no-one has ever sought to ground the picture in his visits to the site.

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844-5? Watercolour, 290 x 476 mm, 11 3/8 x 18 3/4 ins London, British Museum, R.W.Lloyd bequest, 1958-7-12-44 Photo courtesy of British Museum

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1843
Watercolour, 290 x 476 mm, 11 3/8 x 18 3/4 ins
London, British Museum, R.W.Lloyd bequest, 1958-7-12-44
Photo courtesy of British Museum

 

Not since A.J.Finberg published his inventory of the Turner Bequest in 1909 has anyone made a systematic examination of Turner’s sketches of Lucerne. Finberg worked across the whole multitude of near 40,000 individual drawings, so he can be excused for having failed to recognise a significant number showing Lucerne, or for having described the subjects only in very general terms. I was prompted to look into these by my recent article on Turner’s watercolour of Lungern (note 2) and consequent interest in Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook (Tate, TB CCCXXIX) which contains sketches of the Lungernsee, but begins with an extended sequence of studies at Lucerne. This in turn prompted a more extended search for Lucerne material in the Turner Bequest. This may well result in further articles but here I will focus on sketches that record the view from the Reussbrucke towards the Lake of Lucerne with the Kapellbrucke and Wasserturm as the main landmarks.

Given my avowed interest in the topographic content of Turner’s work, and my manifesto on the value of proper consideration of the subject through fieldwork investigation (see ‘Introduction’), this watercolour proves rather problematic. My greatest pleasure is to put Turner on the spot with colours and paper in hand, setting down phenomena so particular that they can only have been recorded direct from observation. In this case, the topographic content of the watercolour, and of a related colour study in watercolour (Tate D36182; TB CCCLXIV 324), turns out to be less than straightforward.

The article finally turns to give some thought to the figures depicted by Turner in the watercolour. These appear to have been completely overlooked by previous commentators. I do not pretend to be even close to offering a definitive interpretation of them; but I can say that they proved to be more puzzling than I anticipated.

Turner visited Lucerne probably on several occasions in the 1840s. He stayed at the Swan Hotel which had opened in 1835 and was the only hotel right on the lake front. It stood on the far side of the buildings in the centre of this composition. His room looked directly out onto the Hofkirche, the lake and Mont Rigi, and he used it as a vantage point to make numerous colour studies of the view, in particular of the Rigi under ever changing conditions of light and weather. The room would also have provided an excellent vantage point to observe the moon rising over the Hofkirche and the lake.

The Swan Hotel, Lucerne; early morning Photograph by David Hll, 28 May 2014, 06.13.  The Swan was built in 1835, and survives pretty much as it was when Turner stayed there in the 1840s. From its lake-front windows he could watch the light change on Mont Rigi and the Hofkirche. The hotel itself has closed, but the first floor restaurant maintains the traditions of the house.

The Swan Hotel, Lucerne; early morning
Photograph by David Hll, 28 May 2014, 06.13.
The Swan was built in 1835, and survives pretty much as it was when Turner stayed there in the 1840s. From its lake-front windows he could watch the light change on Mont Rigi and the Hofkirche. The hotel itself has closed, but the first floor restaurant maintains the traditions of the house.

Google Earth aerial view of Lucerne looking east, marking the viewpoints of Turner’s sketches around the Reussbrucke with Lake Lucerne and the Rigi in the background. Click on image to enlarge

Google Earth aerial view of Lucerne looking east, marking the viewpoints of Turner’s sketches around the Reussbrucke with Lake Lucerne and the Rigi in the background.
Click on image to enlarge

 

Across his visits, Turner made many sketches at Lucerne and several that record this specific material. It is not yet possible to be quite certain of the exact chronology, but the earliest of his sketches in stylistic terms appears to be a pencil sketch on a loose sheet of grey paper in the Turner Bequest (Tate D34107; TB CCCXLI 384), showing the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Reussbrucke, with the Clock Tower to the left.  The drawing is by far the most naturalistic of all of Turner’s sketches at this site. The still-present oriel window is that of a building at the south end of the Reussbrucke, and from here the Jesuitenkirche, which appears in most of the other sketches, is hidden around the corner to the right.

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne: the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofstrasse near the Reussbrucke, with the Clock Tower to the left and part of the Jesuitenkirche to the right, about 1840? Pencil on grey paper, 193 x 279 mm Tate Britain, TB CCCXLI 384: D34107 (hitherto called ‘Lucerne’) Photo courtesy of Tate Britain To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page http://www.tate.org.uk/search/cccxli%20384

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne: the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Reussbrucke, with the Clock Tower to the left, about 1840?
Pencil on grey paper, 193 x 279 mm
Tate Britain, TB CCCXLI 384: D34107 (hitherto called ‘Lucerne’)
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/search/cccxli%20384

Lucerne, the Wasserturm and Mont Rigi from the Reussbrucke, early evening. Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 18.29 Click on the image to enlarge.

Lucerne, the Wasserturm and Mont Rigi from the Reussbrucke, early evening.
Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 18.29
The towers of the Jesuit Church were added in the later nineteenth century.
Click on the image to enlarge.

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne; the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Reussbrucke, with the Rigi in the distance, the Clock Tower to the left, and the Jesuitenkirche to the right, continued to the left in a separate detail upper left, recording buildings on the banks of the Reuss, 1841? Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm A page from the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXVIII 2v; D33092 (hitherto called ‘Lucerne, with Pilatus’) Photo courtesy of Tate Britain To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-with-pilatus-d33092

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne; the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Reussbrucke, with the Rigi in the distance, the Clock Tower to the left, and the Jesuitenkirche to the right, continued to the left in a separate detail upper left, recording buildings on the banks of the Reuss, 1841?
Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm
A page from the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXVIII 2v; D33092 (hitherto called ‘Lucerne, with Pilatus’)
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-with-pilatus-d33092

 

Turner also made a very scrappy and hasty sketch of the view from the Reussbrucke in the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook TB CCCXXVIII 2v (note 3). Truly, this has been drawn with such rapidity that it verges on the careless. We can only assume that it was done to observe some effect or as an idea for a composition. On site it is plain that Turner has assembled the whole out of several constituent parts. The general view is that of the mouth of the Reuss as seen from the Reussbrucke, but Turner synthesises the sketch from several discrete viewpoints. The intersection of the Wasserthurm and Mont Rigi places us towards the right (south) end of the bridge. The angle on the Jesuitenkirche to the right, however, places us at a viewpoint further left towards the north end of the bridge. The angle on the Clock Tower and Rathaus to the right, by contrast, places us at the extreme south end of the bridge, or on the walkway connecting the bridge to the quay of the Jesuitenkirche. Even here it is not possible to see the tower that stands at the left end of the Kapellbrucke as Turner shows it here. This is the still-standing Tour Baghard, part of the Haus Zur Gilgen (note 4), but in fact from the Reussbrucke it is hidden behind the buildings of the Rathausquai to the left, and in fact does not present itself to view until one is outside the Jesuitenkirche. It seems very much as if Turner made this sketch whilst continually on the move, which perhaps explains the hastiness of the hand. A final complication is that the intersection of the Wasserthurm and Rigi, whilst on the line of the right end of the bridge, implies a rather higher viewpoint than any of the other details. But no obvious vantage point presents itself and it seems most likely that Turner simply reordered his material on the hoof to increase the dramatic effect. The internal evidence of this sketchbook – it includes a sketch for a watercolour called Lucerne from the Walls (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) which is usually dated to 1842 – points to a date of 1841 for this sketchbook, but conclusive foundations for dating are as yet unestablished (note 5).

Turner’s most intensive study of study of the site is spread over two sides of a page in the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook TB CCCXXXI 28r, 28v, in which he recorded views up and downstream from the Reussbrucke. At the top of 28r is the view of the Wasserturm and Jesuitenkirche, with a detail of the Jesuitenkirche above in the top left corner of the page. This viewpoint is specifically at the northern end of the Reussbrucke, for it is only there that the Rigi can be seen directly behind the Wasserturm.  In the third and fourth registers of f 28r is a two-part sketch that records the panorama from the Clock tower to the Jesuitenkirche. Turner’s viewpoint in this case is towards the southern end of the Reussbrucke, for it is only from there that the view is opened up of the clock tower. The viewpoint is in fact almost exactly the same as that of the Lucerne and Berne sketch above. Strangely, given the very hasty nature of that, its quality of detail is better than in the present sketch. The forms of the buildings here, especially that of the Jesuitenkirche are generalised and their forms merely suggested through a process of hatching, rather than being noted in any specific architectural detail. The implication appears to be that Turner knew he had sufficient information recorded elsewhere.

J.M.W.Turner Several sketches at Lucerne, 1842 1) The Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke, Lucerne, from the Reussbrucke, with the Rigi behind and the Jesuitenkirche to the right with an additional detail of the Jesuitenkirche above left. The same material sketched from the quay, further right, in (3-4) below. 2) Looking down the Reuss from the Reussbrucke, Lucerne, with the Spreuerbrucke in the mid-distance, the Gutschwald above left and the towers of the Musegg wall descending to the river from the right. With the sun setting directly down the line of the river. The same material sketched from a viewpoint slightly further left, and perhaps closer, at the bottom of the page (5) 3) Looking up the Reuss, from the Reussbrucke, with the Clock Tower, and continued to the right below in 4) to include the Wasserturm and Jesuitenkirche. Similar material to that sketched in (1) above, but from a viewpoint on the quay rather than on the bridge, and adopting a more panoramic treatment. 5) Looking down the Reuss to the Spreuerbrucke and Nollig Tower, with the Gutschwald in the distance left, and the sun setting down the line of the river. Similar material to that sketched in (2) above, but probably from a closer viewpoint on the left bank. 6) (upside down) Buildings alongside the Reuss, Lucerne, probably the continuation of (5) to the right 7) (down the outside edge of the page) Various figures at a market - from left to right,  a figure with a cart selling 'Butter', another two figures with a cart selling 'Milk', another cart and then two figures 'House Maids' and finally another cart and figure.  Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm A page from the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXXI 28r; D33460 (hitherto called ‘At Lucerne’) Photo courtesy of Tate Britain To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page http://www.tate.org.uk/search/D33460

J.M.W.Turner
Several sketches at Lucerne, 1842
Several sketches at Lucerne: 1) The Wasserturm and Kapellbruck, Lucerne, from the the nort end of the Reussbrucke, with the Rigi behind and the Jesuitenkirche to the right with an additional detail of the Jesuitenkirche above left. The same material sketched from the quay, further right, in (3-4) below. The Rigi appears behind the Wasserturm only from the north end of the Reussbrucke. Turner made several other sketches of this same view – a quick, but collected and quite large pencil sketch on grey paper, TB CCCXLI 384, another very scrappy in the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook possibly of 1841 TB CCCXXVIII 2v, and another, quick but controlled, in the Between Lucerne and Berne sketchbook TB CCXXIX 7r, possibly of 1844. The last is specifically related to a finished watercolour of Lucerne: Moonlight at the British Museum. This in turn is related to a colour study in the Turner Bequest TB CCCLXIV 324, although the latter is more-or-less invented from memory, and the finished watercolour works with the subject in an imaginatively synthetic manner. 2) Looking down the Reuss from the Reussbrucke, Lucerne, to the Spruerbrucke in the mid-distance, the Gutschwald above left and the towers of the Musegg wall descending to the river from the right. With the sun setting directly down the line of the river. Similar material sketched fom a viewpoint slightly further left, and perhaps more distant, at the bottom of the page (5) 3) Looking up the Reuss, from the Reussbrucke, with the Clock Tower, and continued to the right below in 4) to include the Wasserturm and Jesuitenkirche. Similar material to that sketched in (1) above. 5) Looking down the Reuss to the Reussbrucke from the Kapellbruck, with the Gutschwald in the distance left, and the Jesuitkiche to the left and the sun setting down the line of the river. Similar material to that sketched in (2) above, here from a more distant viewpoint. 6) (upside down) Buildings alongside the Reuss, Lucerne, probably the Rathausquai, continuing (5) to the right 7) (down the outside edge of the page) Various figures at a market – from left to right, a figure with a cart selling ‘Butter’, another two figures with a cart selling ‘Milk’, another cart and then two figures ‘House Maids’ and finally another cart and figure.
Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm
A page from the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXXI 28r; D33460 (hitherto called ‘At Lucerne’)
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/search/D33460

On 28v the top sketch records the view from the Bahnhofstrasse looking past the Wasserturm to the twin spires of the Hofkirche. This view is continued below to include the Rigi. It is significant to note here that the Hofkirche is not at all visible from the Reussbrucke. It only becomes visible in the vicinity of the Jesuitenkirche as one progresses along the Bahnhofquai towards the Kapellbrucke. In this sketch before the Wasserturm a small boat is coming to shore, evidently crewed by two women. This appears to be the germ of an idea that resurfaces in the finished watercolour. It is perhaps also worth noting in passing that two sketches on 28r, which record the view downstream from the Reussbrucke also record the sun in the sky as it begins to set along the length of the river. Albeit the sun rather than the moon, the idea of an orb reflected in the river, might have provided the germ of an idea for a moonlight. These sketches can be dated to 1842 by virtue of the fact that the sketchbook is bound with endpapers from an Almanac for 1842, and because a number of subjects in that book provided subjects that Turner developed in the winter of 1842-3 (note 6).

J.M.W.Turner  Several sketches at or near Lucerne (detail of top part pf page), 1842  Several sketches at Lucerne:  1) The Wasserturm from the Bahnhofstrasse, looking to the twin spires of the Hofkirche. A similar view to that recorded in the Between Lucerne and Berne sketchbook TB CCCXXIX 01r, but from a viewpoint slightly further left to bring the Wasserturm and Hofkirche into direct juxtaposition. Continued to the right immediately below in  2) to take in the Rigi and the view of the lake.  Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm  A page from the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXXI 28v; D33461 (hitherto called ‘Mountains, Towers, Etc’)  Photo courtesy of Tate Britain  To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-mountains-towers-etc-d33461

J.M.W.TurnerSeveral sketches at or near Lucerne (detail of top part pf page), 1842Several sketches at Lucerne:
1) The Wasserturm from the Bahnhofstrasse, looking to the twin spires of the Hofkirche. A similar view to that recorded in the Between Lucerne and Berne sketchbook TB CCCXXIX 01r, but from a viewpoint slightly further left to bring the Wasserturm and Hofkirche into direct juxtaposition. Continued to the right immediately below in
2) to take in the Rigi and the view of the lake.
Pencil on white wove paper, 165 x 74 mm
A page from the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, Tate Britain, TB CCCXXXI 28v; D33461 (hitherto called ‘Mountains, Towers, Etc’)
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-mountains-towers-etc-d33461

 

Turner’s last sketches in the vicinity of the Reussbrucke appear to be two rapid sketches in the  Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook (TB CCCXXIX 1r,7r). The first records the Wasserturm and Hofkirche from a similar viewpoint to the sketch in the Lake Zug and Goldau sketchbook (reproduced above), except from a little further right in order to open up the Tour Baghard and tower of St Peter’s Chapel.

Lucerne: The Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofstrasse, looking to the Hofkirche.  Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 18.25  The Hofkirche only becomes visible near the Jesuitenkirche, and is not actually visible from the Reussbrucke. Click on image to enlarge

Lucerne: The Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofstrasse, looking to the Hofkirche.
Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 18.25
The Hofkirche only becomes visible near the Jesuitenkirche, and is not actually visible from the Reussbrucke.
Click on image to enlarge

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne: the Wasserthurm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofquai on the left bank of the river Reuss, with the Clock tower of the Rathaus to the left, the towers of the walls beyond, and the tower of St Peter's Church (centre), Haus Zur Gilgen and Tour Baghard (right of centre) and the twin towers of the Hofkirche in the right distance, continued to the right in a separate register, above right, ?1844 Tate Britain, Turner Bequest, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 01r (D.33132). From a similar viewpoint to the sketch in the Lake Zug and Goldau sketchbook (above), but from slightly further to the right. Photo courtesy Tate. To see the sketch in the Tate's own online catalogue, click on the following link, and use your browser's 'back' button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-at-lucerne-d33132

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne: the Wasserthurm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofquai on the left bank of the river Reuss, with the Clock tower of the Rathaus to the left, the towers of the walls beyond, and the tower of St Peter’s Church (centre), Haus Zur Gilgen and Tour Baghard (right of centre) and the twin towers of the Hofkirche in the right distance, continued to the right in a separate register, above right, ?1844
Tate Britain, Turner Bequest, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 01r (D.33132).
From a similar viewpoint to the sketch in the Lake Zug and Goldau sketchbook (above), but from slightly further to the right.
Photo courtesy Tate. To see the sketch in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-at-lucerne-d33132

Lucerne: Panorama of the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofquai. Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 10.38

Lucerne: Panorama of the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke from the Bahnhofquai.
Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 10.38 Click on image to open larger version.

The second records the view looking upstream from the Reussbrucke,  with from left to right, the Zytturm, Clock Tower, Kapellbrucke, Wasserturm and Jesuitenkirche. At first sight this appears to be unproblematic, but the material cannot be seen from any single point of view. The Zytturm may just be glimpsed from a viewpoint immediately downstream of the Reussbrucke on the left bank, but to see it above the intervening buildings so clearly as in this sketch would require a viewpoint several stories above ground level. Likewise the way in which the Rigi appears above the Wasserturm would require an elevated point of view. Yet this is inconsistent with the general angle of view which appears otherwise  to be all at ground level. The view of the Zytturm, Clock Tower, Wasserturm and Rigi are all taken from a point of view at the south end of the Reussbrucke, but the view of the Jesuitenkirche is from the north end of the bridge. From the line of view at the south end of the bridge it is either seen very obliquely, or is hidden altogether. There seem to be some grounds for assigning this sketchbook to 1844 in that it contains sketches (7) for a watercolour called Lucerne from the Lake (Morgan Library, New York) that was painted in 1844-45.

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne from (above) the Reussbrucke, , with from right to left, the Jesuitenkirche, the Wasserturm, the Kapellbrucke, the spire of St Peter's Church, the Clock Tower and the Dachliturm, 1844? Pencil on white wove paper, 138 x 82 mm From the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 7r, D33144 (hitherto called ‘Town on Lake’) Photo courtesy of Tate Britain To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-town-on-lake-d33144

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne; the view looking upstream from the Reussbrucke, with from left to right, the Zytturm, Clock Tower, Kapellbrucke, Wasserturm and Jesuitenkirche, 1844?
Pencil on white wove paper, 138 x 82 mm
From the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 7r, D33144 (hitherto called ‘Town on Lake’)
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-town-on-lake-d33144

So Turner laid down a thorough stock of material recording the topography around the Reussbrucke and Kapellbrucke, and when he came to paint his watercolour of Lucerne: Moonlight, he did so with plenty of reference material to hand, and with a distinct idea of its setting. The various points of reference enable us to be quite specific about its topography. To the left is the clock tower of the Rathaus, then successively over the Kapellbrucke we see the tower of St Peter’s Chapel, the distant twin spires of the Hofkirche, the tour Baghard and the Wasserturm. Our viewpoint is the left bank of the Reuss and the angle of intersection of the Hofkirche and the Tour Baghard situates us quite precisely at the landing steps to the Jesuitenkirche. It is not, however, possible to actually see the Hofkirche in quite this relation to the Tour Baghard, at least from ground level. As one moves from the Kapellbrucke down the Bahnhofstrasse towards this point, both are eclipsed behind the houses at the end of the Rathausquai (see photos). Nor indeed is it possible to see the tower of St Peter’s Chapel until one is quite past the Wasserturm. The watercolour is rather constructed from elements whose relations Turner understood from his explorations, but brought together synthetically in the watercolour to specifically represent the view from the Jesuitenkirche.

Lucerne from Outside the Jesuit Church Photograph by David Hill, 26 May 2014, 20.13 The Hofkirche is directly behind the Tour Baghard. A little further to the left, and it would be exactly as shown in Turner's watercolour. Click on the image to enlarge.

Lucerne from outside the Jesuit Church
Photograph by David Hill, 25 May 2014, 20.13
The Hofkirche is directly behind the Tour Baghard. From a little further to the left, it would be in exactly the same relation as shown in Turner’s watercolour.
Click on the image to enlarge.

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844-5? Watercolour, 290 x 476 mm, 11 3/8 x 18 3/4 ins London, British Museum, R.W.Lloyd bequest, 1958-7-12-44 Photo courtesy of British Museum

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1843
Watercolour, 290 x 476 mm, 11 3/8 x 18 3/4 ins
London, British Museum, R.W.Lloyd bequest, 1958-7-12-44
Photo courtesy of British Museum

Lucerne from outside the Jesuit Church Photograph by David Hill, 25 May 2014, 20.15 From a little further right of the photograph above, briging the Hofkirche and Tour Bagharda little more clearly into view. Click on image to enlarge

Lucerne from outside the Jesuit Church
Photograph by David Hill, 25 May 2014, 20.15
From a little further right of the photograph above, bringing the Hofkirche and Tour Baghard a little more clearly into view.
Click on image to enlarge

There is no conclusive evidence by which to precisely date the watercolour. The customarily accepted date of 1843 originates from John Ruskin. Writing an epilogue to his published notes to the exhibition of his Turners at the Fine Art Society in 1878, he gave an account of the origin of the late Swiss watercolours. He gives quite a detailed account of their beginning in 1842. Turner produced a series of sample studies in order to attract commissions for finished versions. The venture was only a qualified success – commissions coming rather hesitantly – but Ruskin thought that the work was among the best of Turner’s career. Ruskin gives a rather briefer account of subsequent years,  Of 1843 he says: ‘[Turner] offered, in the next year (1843) to do ten more on the same terms. But now only five commissions could be got. My father allowed me to give two: Munro of Novar took three. Nobody would take any more. Turner was angry; and partly ill, drawing near the end, you perceive. He did the five, but said it was lucky there were no more to do. The five were: 1 Kussnacht. Munro of Novar. 2 ZUG. (No.64) Munro of Novar. 3. (I forget at this moment Munro’s third.) I think it was the Zurich by moonlight, level over the rippling Limmat; a noble drawing, but not up to the mark of the rest. 4 GOLDAU. (No.65) J.R. 5 ST GOTHARD (No.66) J.R.. Mr Munro thought the Zug too blue, and let me have it. So three are here (64, 65, and 66).’ It has to be said that Ruskin’s memory was hazy with regard to the Lucerne. He clearly remembers a moonlit subject of this kind, although he calls it Zurich, and the fact that it was in Munro’s collection, but it ought to be sufficient caution not to rely on this as conclusive evidence for a date (note 8).

 

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight: Sample Study, c.1844? Watercolour on paper, 235 x 325 mm Tate D36182; TB CCCLXIV 324 Photo courtesy of Tate Britain To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-by-moonlight-sample-study-d36182

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight: Sample Study, c.1841-2?
Watercolour on paper, 235 x 325 mm
Tate D36182; TB CCCLXIV 324
Photo courtesy of Tate Britain
To see this sketch on the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner bequest click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-by-moonlight-sample-study-d36182

Quite a lot of potential significance may be attached to the relationship between the finished watercolour and a coloured sketch in the Turner Bequest (Tate D36182; TB CCCLXIV 324), on which it is traditionally said to have been based. Turner produced a group of fifteen of these studies in 1841-2, another ten in 1842-3, none in 1843-4, and then another group in 1844-5. The most scholarly analysis of these groupings is that by Ian Warrell published in his Through Switzerland with Turner of 1995, in which he assigns the colour sketch to the second group of 1842-3. There is, however some reason to doubt that. It does not seem to have been previously considered that it might belong to the first series made in 1841-2. My reasoning here is that it is marked on the verso with a number in red chalk (‘46’). The same red chalk numbers appear on the versos of sample studies that were certainly included in the 1841-2 series, those e.g. of Splugen, TB CCCLXIV 277 (‘10’) or those for the Blue and Red Rigi, CCCLXIV 330 (‘17’) and 275 (‘15’). In all, in compiling his list of 1841-2 sample studies, Warrell 1995, p.149-50 notes red chalk numbers on nine out of his first ten subjects. The correlation is striking enough to seem almost diagnostic of membership of this set. The 1842-3 series, it is worth mentioning here has a different diagnostic form of inscription that gives a title, a number in the form ‘No.(nn)’ a reference in the form ‘x(nn)’, then perhaps another number and the name of the commissioner of the finished work. It would be interesting to make a complete collation of these marks. I give a list below (Appendix 1) of those of the 1842-3 series that I have collected from Warrell 1995 and elsewhere. In relation to the sample study of ‘Lucerne’ being discussed here, I might tentatively propose its membership of the 1841-2 series, and suggest that there might be sufficient room to wonder a little about how securely it might be identified as Lucerne at all (note 9).

As much as the watercolour plays with topographical detail, it is much closer to reality than the colour study. We might recognise in the latter some generic elements of Lucerne – the towers of the Musegg wall to the right; miscellaneous spires and turrets as do indeed typify the city, the twin spires of the Hofkirche in the distance, and a tower on a wooden bridge over the water. But the Wasserturm is much grander than the squat structure in the colour study, and stands towards the southern (i.e. right) end of the Kapellbrucke, not the northern end as given in the study. There is sufficient difference between the colour study and the finished watercolour to introduce some doubt into their relationship as the traditionally assumed, or at least to its directness. There is no doubt that the effect of the finished watercolour is derived closely from the colour study, but the topographical content has been improved. It seems very likely that the colour study was done from memory, and principally for the effect, but the finished version informed itself from the material gathered in the sketches.

Moonlight was a regular study for Turner. Another article on SublimeSites.co discusses this in relation to a watercolour of Sisteron (note 10). In the 1840s, with Turner in his later 60s, the subject began to take on increasingly elegiac associations. There are several moonlights amongst his Alpine sketches from this period, but this is one of the few finished watercolours in the Swiss series to have made it a core theme. Here Turner deploys the full weight of a lifetime’s understanding of complex atmospheric effects. He might certainly have observed the moon shining over the lake and into the Reuss as here. In 1844, for example, the 60% moon passed through ENE at an elevation of 10° at about 23.00 (GMT) on 3 September. One does not need to be so specific, however, to say that Turner was certainly a regular witness to moonlight, and had unmatched knowledge of its effects and variations, but it is significant enough to note that the specific effect depicted here is characteristic of the site.

It may not, however, always be quite so spectacular. Here, the air over the lake has thickened sufficiently to obscure the moon and the distant hills, including the distinctive wedge shape of the Rigi. The moon is heaving itself into the clearer atmosphere above, but the moisture is sufficient to diffuse the light across the lake surface, and clear enough above for us to be able to make out the moonlight catching high ridges of cirrus. Below, the variety of light is reflected and refracted amongst the shades of buildings and lights from windows into a myriad of glints and sparkles. The variety of mark and the material complexity of Turner’s workmanship gives the picture a sense of energy, as if the materials were chemically and physically dynamic; as much in active physical process as the living stuff of the world.

So far we have discussed topography and phenomena, and these are, indeed, rich and deep themes in Turner. But there is a human dimension in this picture that has yet to be considered. Despite the fact that the watercolour is in a well-known public collection, and that it has been exhibited, reproduced and commented upon on a number of occasions, it is, I believe, the case that no-one before has properly noted, let alone considered and discussed, the human incident that it contains (note 11).

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844? (detail, left side) Logs felled in the forests around Lake Lucerne were tied in rafts and floated down the Rhine as far as Germany and Holland.

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844? (detail, left side)
Logs felled in the forests around Lake Lucerne were tied in rafts and floated down the Rhine as far as Germany and Holland.

To the left a raft of logs is passing by. Cutting timber in the forests around Lake Lucerne was an important economic activity, and the logs were tied into rafts and floated into the river Reuss, and down to the Rhine and as far as Germany and Holland.(12) The timbermen lived on the rafts all the way down to their destination and cooked and slept on board. Drifting across the lake towards Lucerne would be relatively peaceful and uneventful, but once in the river the raft would need constant vigilance and such steerage as could be managed. At Lucerne the raft was just entering into its long journey to the north and whether by sun or moon the crew will have to take watch and retain control at all times. The raft reminds the viewer of the constant endeavour that links this environment to ours. The timber might easily have been processed at Dordrecht or Rotterdam and shipped onwards to England (note 13).

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844? (detail, right side) No-one seems ever to have given any consideration to this detail. Two women are carrying another between them, who is certainly incapacitated, and perhaps even dead (?). What could be the meaning of all this??

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight, c.1844? (detail, right side)
No-one seems ever to have given any consideration to this detail. Two women are carrying another between them, who is certainly incapacitated. What could be the meaning of all this??

On the opposite side of the composition is an altogether more puzzling tableau. Two women are carrying a recumbent third up onto the quay from a boat. Quite what significance this could have is far from clear. There are, however a few things that we might note. We have two women carrying a third who is completely incapacitated. The women are bare-headed, and have no shawls over their shoulders – this is obviously hard work. All give the impression of being of matrimonial age; are dressed in peasant costume, and we might have to admit a decided emphasis of their upper torso, particularly (and actually rather extraordinarily) in the figure to the left. So what can possibly be happening here? We cannot know anything for certain, but we might wonder about the circumstances of their arrival and of their destination. The fact they have arrived by boat suggests that they have come in from an outlying settlement on the lake, and that they are coming urgently – arriving at night. Clearly the patient is being brought for remedy or at least for succour. The exclusively female grouping, the nocturnal occasion and the conspicuous female attributes might suggest a complication in a confinement but clearly serious and incapacitating. We might thus think about where they could be headed. It is clear from the details of the watercolour that the quay at which they are landing is that of the Jesuitenkirche. It may be that the patient is being delivered to seek ministry from the community stationed there.

This introduces a new and specifically sectarian element. Lucerne was a major centre of Catholicism in Switzerland. This was the source of unrest and upheaval throughout the period of Turner’s association with the city. In 1835 government and education was secularised, monasteries closed and the Papal Nuncio, normally resident in Lucerne, was sent into exile at Schwytz. Following elections in 1841 the Catholic peasant leader Joseph Leu formed a new Catholic administration, and in 1844 Leu’s government recalled the Jesuits to the city. This led to a period of period of sectarian violence culminating in Leu’s assassination on 20 July 1845. Civil War followed in 1846 culminating in the rout of the Catholic armies and the introduction of a new secular constitution for the Swiss federation in 1848.

When Turner was in Lucerne in 1844 he seems actually to have had no inkling of the political turbulence around him. Writing in a letter of 28 December 1844 he remarked: ‘Now for myself.. I went.. to Lucerne and Switzerland, little thinking such a cauldron of squabbling, political or religious, I was walking over (note 14). It seems apparent that he was now much more fully appraised of the particulars. The open question remains how all this might be resolved in some kind of explanation. The women are peasant women, and from the lake, as we may infer. There might be something about their profession and the nature of the indisposition but we cannot quite construe that yet. There does seem to be a Catholic implication, related to the fact that they are arriving at the Jesuitenkirche and the Jesuits were a major issue in Lucerne in the 1840s. The fact is that the deepest Catholic roots were out amongst the peasantry in the villages and small towns, and it seems plausible to infer that it is the Catholic institution of the Jesuitenkirche that draws them here. At the very least we might say that there is an unrelenting play of matters of Faith, Necessity, Wellbeing, Mortality, Community acted out here in as urgently a sublime circumstance as might be conceived.

Quite how the specific details might be resolved remains unresolved, but the difficulty is surely part of the picture’s intention. Right from the very first, making drawings to be engraved for the Oxford Almanac in the 1790s, Turner had produced compositions that would stand and resist repeated scrutiny and consideration. At the very least we can say that here at Lucerne Turner intended to unsettle our more contented enjoyment of the topographic and phenomenal. He interferes with that by introducing elements that obtrude into consciousness to disrupt indulgence and enjoyment. Turner, we might say – even the matter will obviously take more prolonged consideration to resolve – intends to disrupt our consumption of Lucerne as a sight. Rather he establishes it as a site; a place in which things occur in both phenomenal and human dimensions that are rather more complex and even conflicted than might be envisioned by established forms or familiar tropes.

1)      The original version of this essay was posted on 18 February 2014. Following a site visit to Lucerne in May it has been possible to include some of the author’s own photographs and to refine some of the subject descriptions. The principal prior treatments of Lucerne by Moonlight are by Andrew Wilton in Turner in the British Museum, 1975, no.292, and the same author in Turner and Switzerland, 1976, pp. 97-99, and Turner Abroad, 1982, nos. 109, 110. The most recent treatment and review is by Kim Sloan in J.M.W.Turner: Watercolours from the R.W.Lloyd Bequest, 1998, no.47.

2)      David Hill, ‘Turner in Switzerland #1: The Lungernsee and Brunig Pass’, Sublimesites.co, 1 February 2014.

3)      A J Finberg, Inventory of the Turner Bequest, 1909, for TB CCCXXVII 2v gives ‘Lucerne, with Pilatus’, mistaking the distant mountain for the Rigi. The title has remained in use until the present.

4)      The tower is infrequently identified in Lucerne maps and literature, and there is nothing to identify it on site. It is called the Zier-Gilgen tower by Ian Warrell in Through Switzerland with Turner, Tate 1995, under no.36. Strictly speaking the tower is the medieval Tour Baghard, part of the original city defences and the house is the Haus Zur-Gilgen, built in 1507-1510, both named after prominent Lucerne families.

5)      Given the similarity in format of the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook to that of the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, one might prefer the think that they were used on the same tour.

6)      Subjects figured in the Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook that provide watercolours made in 1842-3 include Goldau, Kussnacht and the Lake of Zug, cf. Warrell 1995, pp.151-52.

7)      Sketches for Lucerne from the Lake in the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook include TB CCCCXXIX 3r and (especially) 3v.

8)      For the record, Ruskin was very clearly aware of this watercolour nearer the time. In January 1852 Ruskin was in Venice and thinking about the consequences of Turner’s death a month earlier. He wrote several letters to his father preparing for purchases should any work come on the market. On 23rd January he produced a list of his top priorities. In a group of eleven works: ‘Those which I would give anything in reason for’ he included as number two: ‘Monro’s Lucerne, by moonlight – from the river’, clearly this picture (J.L. Bradley: Ruskin’s Letters from Venice, 1851-2, 1955, p.146). Munro consistently called it Lucerne, and exhibited it as such at the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition in 1858 (no.378), catalogued it as such in a privately printed catalogue of his collection in 1865 (no.37) and sold it as such at his sale at Christie’s on 2 June 1877 No.34). Warrell 1995, p.152 quotes a letter from Ruskin to his father of January 1852 in which he remembers being offered a ‘beautiful Lake Lucerne now Munro’s’. Warrell infers a date of 1843 for the reference, but following the logic of the letter, Ruskin situates it after June 1845 when he bought three watercolours from Turner, and in the winter of 1845-6 when he was still hopeful of getting Turner to do some new commissions. It seems to me doubtful that the reference relates to the present watercolour – hardly best described as the ‘Lake of Lucerne’, but if it is relevant testimony, then it points to quite a late date for Lucerne by Moonlight. Warrell 1995 says that even if it was made in 1843, it may not have been sold until 1844.
9) By-the bye, many commentors (Wilton, 1976, followed by Sloan 1998), cite a similar watercolour study of a moonlight effect over a river at the Art Institute of Chicago, This was called ‘Zurich’ in time past, but was reidentified as Lucerne by Wilton, producing from the present watercol9ur and TB CCCLXIV 324. The Chicago study can here be confirmed as a sketch of Zurich. I will endeavour to illustrate this as soon as possible in a short separate article on SublimeSites.
10) David Hill, ‘Moonlight and its implications: Turner at Sisteron’, Sublimesites.co, 8 November 2013
11) I can find only two references to the figures at all. The privately printed catalogue of H.A.J. Munro’s collection of 1865 (no.37) described it as ‘LUCERNE. Moonlight; City to left; Wooden Bridge, centre, mid-distance; Two Girls on Walls, with Drapery, right foreground; Men in Red Vest, on Point of Land, left; Black Pitchkettle on Fire, etc’., and Walter Armstrong’s catalogue of Turner’s work in his 1902 book, Turner, (p.263) describes it as ‘Looking up the Reuss toward the covered bridge, town chiefly on the left. Women by quay in right centre. Blue drawing.’ Neither seem to have seen the particular interest of the group at the right.
12) John Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland, 1838, p.57 gives an entertaining account of the ‘Taper of Alpnach’ – on the Brunig Pass route from Lucerne to Brienz, the precise route recorded in the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX – of the extraordinary investment of an immense wooden chute, built to slide wooden logs from high up on the mountain, down to the lake.
13) A watercolour of 1842 of Konstanz (called ‘Constance’) (York City Art Gallery), includes a similar detail of a log raft beginning its journey north. It also features an atmospheric effect even more complex than that in the present watercolour. I have material on that subject for a future article, if opportunity allows.
14) John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W.Turner, Oxford U.P., 1980, no.275.

Appendix 1

Collation of Turner ‘sample studies’ from the Swiss series of 1842-3, based on the inscriptions on their versos:

A watercolour at the Fitzwilliam Museum (W.1499) shows the Devil’s Bridge – the old bridge still standing but by-passed by a new bridge built during the early 1830s. Warrell 1995, p.152 lists this under the sample drawings for 1843-4, but this is to ignore the inscription, which seems to conform to the pattern of those belonging to the group of 1842-3 ie with title, a number, and some other numerals usually including an x. The form of the 1842-3 inscriptions was first discussed in any detail by Cormack 1975 under his no. 43 and also as an appendix pp.79-82. Warrell 1995 no. 74 TB CCCLXIV, called The Via Mala looking towards Thusis, is not dissimilar to the Devil’s bridge in terms of style, and might, instead show Pfeffers, looking across the Tamina gorge to the castle of Warterstein. Warrell loc cit also gives the watercolour of Hospenthal (ie Andermatt) W.1501 to the 1843-4 group, but the inscription (No.5) in the numbered sequence also suggests that it was one of the 1842-3 group.

The inscriptions in numerical order are: Nos 1, 3, 4, 6 and 13 remain to be accounted for. The spelling as as given in the inscription:

1

2              Kusnacht and Tells Church and Gesler Castle/ Lake of Lucern/ No.2   x   99  6  Mr Munro’ TB CCCLXIV 208 (Warrell 1995 no.29)

3

4

5              Hospital N St Gothard/ No.5  X  014 (W.1501 Fitzwilliam Museum)

6

7              Goldau – Rigi – and Lake of Zug/ No.7  and x o5 TB CCCLXIV 281 Warrell no.27

8              Devil’s Bridge No.8  04 X 20 (W.1499 Fitzwilliam Museum)

9              Art Lake of Zug No.9  x s 10 Mr Munro  TB CCCCLXIV 280  Warrell 1995 no.28

10           Bellinzona No.10  W.1457 Indianapolis Museum of Art

11           Bellinzona No.11  Manchester City Art Galleries W.1489

12           Bellinzona No.12/ 13/ x014/ Mr Munro  TB CCCXXXII 25  Cat no,.48

13

14           Pass Piolano/ Tessin/ No.14  x 0 12 / 29  (Faido) TB CCCLXIV 209 Warrell 1995 no.40

15           Brennern Lake of Lucern  15  18  X  8  Fitzwilliam Museum W.1486

J.M.W.Turner Lucerne by Moonlight (detail) British Museum, London

J.M.W.Turner
Lucerne by Moonlight (detail)
British Museum, London

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