Here we continue our journey through Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook. Having completed a survey of the town in previous pages, Turner now takes a panorama of the mountains over the lake, but ends up paying closer attention to the ladies on the promenade.
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Turner‘s main sketch on f.7a is the central part of the field of view, looking south-east towards the head of Lake Lucerne. The pencil line is a little hasty, but sufficiently practiced to characterise specific peaks. The jagged ridge to the left is that of the Schwyz Alps, with the most prominent summit to the left being the Chaiserstock (2514m), then the twin peaks in the centre of the skyline being those of Fulen (2491m) and the Rossstock (2461m).
The sketch is centred on the sharp escarpment of the Niederbauen Chulm (1923m) rising to the Oberbauenstock, and closed at the right by the Burgenstock (1128m).
Turner then turned the book upside-down to continue the panorama further south to the right, working along the lower edge of the page to record the distant hills seen over the Bireggwald, the wooded hill and recreational area immediately to the south of Lucerne.
His draftsmanship is rough and rapid, but we might recognise the forms of the Brisen (2404m) towards the left, with the Gross Walenstock and Gross Sattelistock in the centre distance, and the ridge of the Stanserhorn (1898m) to the right.
Turner completed his panorama to the right in a separate detail drawing at the top left of the page, bringing in the Wasserturm in the foreground with the ridge rising to Mont Pilatus above.
Turner probably began the panorama at the left of the field of view with the profile of Mont Rigi drawn as the main sketch on f.8.
Over several visits to Lucerne in the 1840s, this became perhaps the most important motif to him, painted in dozens of colour studies and several studio watercolours. We examined a few of these in a previous essay in Sublimesites.co, but it is worth remarking here that this sketch appears to be the only time that he made it the principal (rather than incidental) subject of a pencil sketch. That being the case it is even more worth noting how the drawing apparently condenses and dramatizes the profile, and the same is true for almost all the watercolours.
I have previously observed that the comparison with a photograph is nowhere near as straightforward as many might assume. Nor can a photograph be taken as unproblematically ‘true’. Mountains are a particular difficulty. How many times have you felt that a photograph seems to peculiarly diminish the grandeur of a scene? That is because sight is an embodied, dynamic, process of perception, whereas photography is a reductive, mechanical projection. The mind registers significance and quality, like bulk, presence, challenge, sternness, height, evanescence, grace, power. The list may be endless. If it comprehends a profile at all, it is one that primarily bounds qualities. Photographers know that a camera captures few, if any, of those things without being handled artfully. Artists go directly for the important things. And Turner at the peak of his perceptual powers in the 1840s was completely confident in his his ability to distil all the key characteristics..
Though he could easily be distracted. Amidst all this sublimity, the ladies of Lucerne were abroad and he seems to have given the greater part of his attention to them. The conjunction reminds us that Turner’s landscape was human and social as well as geological. A line of women in regional dress, possibly taken on a Sunday as they went to church, or perhaps on a holiday or festival. In this, as in many things he was remembering the landscape of his own younger days. He sketched similar groups of figures on his first visit to Switzerland in 1802 in the Swiss Figures sketchbook.
Next: Leaving Lucerne