In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #1 Lucerne, Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke

Turner, like almost every visitor to Lucerne, started his exploration of the town at the covered bridge, the Kapellbrucke [Chapel Bridge]. This spans the River Reuss at its outflow from the Lake of Lucerne and is dominated by the spike of the Wasserturm [Water Tower]. The tower was built about 1330 as part of the town’s fortifications, and the bridge followed a few years after. The Kapellbrucke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. The river sweeps beneath like glass, tinted with emerald and indigo.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 1. Image source, Tate

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Lucerne, Kapellbrucke. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, May 2014.
Lucerne Wasserturm. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, May 2014

The current catalogue of the Turner Bequest describes the subject only as ‘At Lucerne’ but Turner’s viewpoint is on the left bank of the river, now the Bahnhofquai. It is perfectly recognisable to this day. I first discussed the precise identification in the article on Lucerne by Moonlight first posted on 18 February 2014.

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Recognisable in spite of the fact that the sketch is somewhat scribbled. To the left is the Clock tower of the Rathaus [Town Hall], and then proceeding to the right from the Wasserturm is the tower of St Peter’s Church, the Haus Zur Gilgen and Tour Baghard, and then the twin spires of the Hofkirche. The sketch is continued to the right above left to include a glimpse of Mont Rigi. It seems plain that Turner felt no need to record any of this at all carefully.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 1. Image source, Tate
J.M.W.Turner, Spires and Heidelberg sketchbook, TB CCXCVII page 1. Image source; Tate

He sketched exactly the same material with much greater care in a different sketchbook. On this occasion he appears to have been simply checking for signs of any change, as, after a period of separation, anyone might in greeting an old friend.

Next: A stroll around the Schwanenplatz

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