The recent appearance of a Turner watercolour called ‘Lake Lucerne at Dusk’ at Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings sale in New York on 27 January reminds me of unfinished business. The very first article on Sublimesites.co was about a Turner watercolour of the Lungernsee which Turner visited and sketched whilst making a tour from Lucerne to Thun [to visit that article click here].
I promised then to make a photographic tour to retrace Turner’s footsteps and later that same spring we spent a splendid week in Lucerne and afterwards traced Turner’s route up and over the Brunig Pass. We returned with a stack of material, sufficient to treat the tour as a whole. I began work on one of the Lucerne subjects [click here], but not being tethered to any deadliness, the project was soon overtaken by other interests. I wandered off on a different trip. Happy days before the current plague.
The Sotheby’s watercolour turns out to be another subject from the same tour from Lucerne to Thun, and we will get round to discussing that in due course. Before that, I am determined to work my way to that point by retracing the whole tour page-by-page from the sketchbook.
The Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook (Tate, Turner Bequest TB CCCXXIX) is a small pocket book of 52 pages (5 ½ x 3 3/16 ins) bound in marbled boards, with leather spine and pencil loops. It is perhaps a shame that for the present the Tate website carries such a very low resolution image of the cover.
The images of the sketches, however, are excellent, and record an itinerary starting at Lucerne, where he filled fifteen pages with quick memoranda before crossing the lake to Stansstad. From here he took a boat to Alpnach and then a char to Sarnen before ascending to Lungern and across the Brunig Pass to Brienz. There follows an excursion to Meiringen and the famous Reichenbach Falls, before returning to Brienz. He then takes a boat across the lake to the the Giessbach falls, and then on to Interlaken. The final leg takes him across the lake of Thun to Oberhofen and the town of Thun where this sequence of sketches ends. The sketchbook was selected (or even bought?) in Lucerne exclusively for the journey, and Turner made sketches at regular intervals throughout. The comprehensiveness of his coverage of subjects suggests that he had not made a systematic survey of the crossing on any previous occasion. Furthermore, he appears to have so much wanted to record every prospect on the route that he made unsteady scribbles even when being jolted in a char, or on horse or mule-back. This was quite an undertaking for a man in his advanced sixties. There was no coach crossing of the Brunig at this time.
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The book is dated 1841 by Finberg, but on no really certain grounds. Finberg’s basis for the date appears to be the assumption that the Lucerne sketches informed an 1842 watercolour called Lucerne from the Walls (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside; Willton 1979, no.1529). In fact there is no connection with that watercolour – none of the sketches record a visit to that particular viewpoint – and instead the direct connection is with an 1845 watercolour called Lucerne Town (USA, New York, Morgan Library, Wilton 1979, no.1544). That seems to point quite clearly to a date of 1844. If so, Turner was sixty-nine years of age. His tour that year was his last to the Alps and much of the work that resulted from this sketchbook is glimmeringly crepuscular.
We will begin at Lucerne