The Lake of Lucerne and Mont Rigi from the Swan Hotel., Lucerne; Called ‘The Rigi at Sunset’, c.1842

Lucerne Kunstmuseum, Switzerland

Watercolour and gouache, 9 ¾ × 14 ¼ inches · 247 × 362 mm

Turner catalogues: Wilton1472; tdb1577

This is a medium-sized watercolour sketch of broad lake scene, suffused with light and colour, with quays in the foreground, full of suggestions of activity. In the left distance is a rosy-coloured mountain with a steep escarpment to the left and gentler slopes towards to the centre of the composition. Distant mountains close the centre and right distance..

Image courtesy of Libson-Yarker, London

This watercolour was painted in the early 1840s when Turner was a regular visitor to the Alps. It was probably painted direct from nature, and this sheet is probably a page from a sketchbook. This particular example probably dates from the visit of 1842.

Rigi from Lucerne, Evening
Photograph by Professor David Hill, 2014

The specific subject may be identified as the view from the Swan Hotel at Lucerne, where Turner stayed annually in the early 1840s.

Swan Hotel, Lucerne
Photograph by Professor David Hill, 2014

In the foreground is the Schwanenplatzquai. In the left middle distance is the new steamboat pier built in 1837 to facilitate the landing of the Stadt Lucerne, the first steamboat on Lake Lucerne.

First Steamboat on Lake Lucerne
Lithograph by Chevalier of Paris, 1837

A lithograph by Chevalier of Paris records the scene at its maiden voyage on 24 September 1837. The small building at the end of the pier appears to have been a ticket office, and to the left of that can be seen the end of the Hofbrucke. The latter was removed in 1845 to make way for the Schweizerhof Hotel. In the foreground is the old boat landing where the flat-bottomed lake boats of various sizes – some big enough to carry large loads such as a carriage – plied their trade.

A sketch of almost exactly the same subject sold at Christie’s, New York, 31 January 2019, lot 111

Turner sketched exactly the same material in a watercolour in a private collection sold at Christie’s, New York, 31 January 2019, lot 111. The size of that is 245 x 360 mm, almost exactly the same as the present sheet. They might well be sheets from the same sketchbook, but the present drawing is more fully and more solidly elaborated.

Click on image to open full-size in new page:

It is worth observing that the detail of the Christie’s 2019 sketch, whilst very much more quickly made out, are also much more particular, especially the shadows on the flanks of the Rigi. The horned profile to the right of the Rigi here also seems rather unnatural compared to the Christie’s sketch. It is possible that the present watercolour could have been derived from the other, but close comparison suggests that the present watercolour perhaps records a lower viewpoint -a first floor room rather than the fourth – and that the effect is rather different; perhaps later in the day. In any case this watercolour is of sufficient elaboration as to have perhaps been offered as one of the sample studies shown to prospective buyers of finished watercolours through Turner’s dealer Thomas Griffith.

Image courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Nor, indeed, is it altogether clear that the effect depicted here is actually that of evening. Although the treatment of the Rigi is much more schematic than in the Christie’s 2019 sketch, the angle of light is not dissimilar. There, it is in the SW about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here it is perhaps a little later, but not so late as sunset. From this viewpoint, the Rigi stands almost due east. For the sun to cast an evening red glow on the Rigi, it would have to be near the horizon, that is in the west or even slightly north of west, which is behind us or even over our left shoulder; certainly not from the right as is intimated by the shadows along the north-east-facing crest of the Rigi.

Click on image to open full-size in new page:

The effect is usually said to be that of evening on account of the reddish colouration of the Rigi. At the appearance of the present work at Agnew’s in 1967 it was described as a sketch for one of the greatest of Turner’s finished late Alpine watercolours the Red Rigi (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 1704/4) which was painted in 1841-2. That relationship, however, whilst undeniable in general terms, does not fully sustain itself in terms of particulars. The scope of the two works, and the specific details and effect are quite different. The Red Rigi, moreover, has nothing of the foreground interest of the present subject.

Turner appears to have stayed at the Swan on all his visits to Lucerne in the 1840s and there are numerous studies of the Rigi. Another treatment worth especial mention is a watercolour study that was sold by Sotheby’s on 5 July 2016, lot 360.

A study of a similar view sold by Sotheby’s, 5 July 2016

This appears taken from exactly the same viewpoint as the present subject, but is angled slightly further left to centre the Rigi in the composition and bring in the Hofkirche to the left.

Other colour studies of the same material and taken from the Swan Hotel include TB CCCLXIV 382, CCCLXIV 221, a watercolour study at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester – all of which include the Hofkirche which is here out of the left frame edge. Another colour study TB CCCLXIV 220 shows similar material but is taken from ground level, a little further along the quay, with the Hofbrucke to the left and the ticket office to the right. Another colour study, TB CCCLXIV 174 shows the same view over the lake to the Rigi and Burgenstock as the present subject but appears to be taken from a higher viewpoint altogether, possibly from the walls.

It is not clear how when or where this might have been acquired by the Revd William Kingsley, who is the earliest known owner, and was a friend of Turner.

Last updated DH 18 June 2020


Revd. W Kingsley (1892, 1902), d.1916 and so to his widow,

Mrs Kingsley, thence to

Christie’s 14 July 1916 (26), bt.

Agnew’s, 1500 gns; 

G E Leeming, from whom bt.

Agnew’s, 1920 (1920, 1922), and sold 1922 to

Mrs Humphrey Tollemache (1967);

Private Collection (1979, 1993).

With Lowell Libson and Jonny Yarker, 2019 and sold by them after a public appeal to

Lucerne Kunstmuseum, Switzerland

Exhibition HIstory:

Exh RA 1892 no.4 as ‘The Righi 9 3/4 x 14 ins’. lent by the Rev W Kingsley;

Exh Agnew’s 1920 no.20,;

Exh Agnew’s 1922 no.11;

Exh Agnew’s Turner loan exh 1951 no.89;

Exh King’s Lynn festival, Turner watercolours, 1957 no.26;

Exh Agnew’s Turner loan exhibition, 1967 no.85 as The Rigi, Lake of Lucerne – Sunset, 1841′, lent by Mrs Humphrey Tollemache;

Exh RA 1993 no.303 as ‘The Rigi at Sunset, c.1841, 245 x 360 mm’, repr colour

Exh Maastrich, TEFAF, 2019 by Libson and Yarker

Exh Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Luzern, 5 July – 13 October 2019, as The Rigi, Lake Lucerne, Sunset, c1842-3, repr colour p.147;

Published and documentary references:

Armstrong 1902, p264 as “Lucerne, Lake of: Red Rigi, Small”. 1841. [Rev. W. Kingsley. R.A. 1892] 9 1/2 x 14. Similar to the large drawing, but more brilliant. F. rafts and figures sketched in.; 

Wilton 1979,  no.1472 as ‘The Rigi, Lake Lucerne: sunset, c.1841, 242 x 356 mm, private collection’, repr b/w;

Libson-Yarker online catalogue [Accessed 12.03.2019]

TSN 132, Autumn 2019, p.2, repr colour;

TSN 133, spring 2020, p.28, not repr. reporting acquisition by Lucerne Kunstmuseum

6 thoughts on “The Lake of Lucerne and Mont Rigi from the Swan Hotel., Lucerne; Called ‘The Rigi at Sunset’, c.1842

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