In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #1a-2 Lucerne, Schwanenplatz

Turner visited Lucerne several times in the early 1840s. He stayed at the Swan Hotel which was built in 1835. The building survives intact, but no longer functions as a hotel. A first floor restaurant, however, maintains the traditions of hospitality. In Turner’s day it was the newest hotel on the lake front, and the good rooms looked out on the lake. An earlier article discussed some of the watercolours that resulted.

In the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook Turner used the first full-page spread to record views up and down the quay outside the hotel. Both sketches are currently described simply as ‘At Lucerne’ in the Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner Bequest, but we can here elaborate the detail:

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 1a; Image source; Tate

The first sketch records the view looking north from the foot of Tour Baghard (left), with the Swan Hotel prominent to the left and the Dachliturm (one of the towers on the city walls) left of centre, and the Hofbrucke to the right. The Hofbrucke was a long covered walkway that connected the quay to the Hofkirche. The immediate area was the principal steamboat quay, and a smokestack can be seen towards the right.

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The scene is perfectly recognisable today, even if the traffic flow is a little more intense.

Swan Hotel, Lucerne. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, May 2014

The current Google Earth Streetview image is especially curious. Turner’s sketch suggests that the scene was almost as busy then as now. But Google’s camera car seems to have stumbled upon the filming of a Bollywood promotional video. Turner would surely have been delighted to encounter that, and may claim to have played no small role in expanding global consciousness to make such encounters routine, at least before the pandemic.

The sketch on page 2, opposite, is taken from almost exactly the same viewpoint as 1a, but looking in the opposite direction, across the mouth of the Reuss to the Wasserturm with the Kapellbrucke, Jesuitenkirche, Tour Baghard and Haus Zur Gilgen, with the bulk of Mont Pilatus in the Background.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX 2. Image source, Tate
Tour Baghard, Lucerne. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, May 2014

The peaks of Pilatus and Rigi were Turner’s twin motifs during his stays in Lucurne. The effects of weather, light and colour upon them occupied his attention through dozens of watercolour studies. Many, if not most of these must have been made from his room in the Swan. Two studies in the Turner Bequest show a similar view to the present sketch.

J.M.W.Turner, Colour Study, Lucerne. Image source, Tate
J.M.W.Turner, Colour Study, Lucerne. Image source, Tate

It must be admitted that the architectural detail of these watercolours is more than a little vague. The whole point of colour, however, is to record phenomenal effect; pencil served to set down architectural form. The interest here, is in the colour and cloud upon Pilatus, and these might almost be successive studies of the same sunset effect. The architectural form, however is sufficiently particularized and consistent enough for us to begin to place Turner in a particular room in the hotel. We must be on one of the highest floors at the south-east angle.

It would have been particularly advantageous to Turner to have a room at the corner that gave views both to the Rigi at the east front, and to Pilatus from the south front. It is tempting to wonder whether the rough circle round the upper-floor window in the first sketch might even be an aide-memoire.

Next: Along the lake front to the Hofkirche

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