In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #8a-10; Lucerne from the Lake

Here we continue our journey through Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook. Turner takes a boat across the lake towards Stansstad, and makes a sequence of sketches looking back towards Lucerne.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 8a. Image source, Tate

Turner took five sketches of the receding town. None are identified as Lucerne on Tate’s current online catalogue. The present sketch is simply called ‘Town beside lake’. It is taken from a position just off the present-day Bahnhof quay, looking (from left to right) to the Jesuit church, the Wasserturm, the Rathaus Clock Tower, the Tour Baghard and Swan Hotel, with the towers of the Musegg wall behind. The view is continued to the left above left with the Gutschwald and one of the former towers on the left bank, and to the right above right to include the Hofkirche.  

Lucerne from off the Bahnhof Quay. Photograph by Professor David Hill, 28 May 2014, 12.38 CET

As is usual he uses a landmark to calibrate his position, in this case the twin towers of the Hofkirche, which we see here from the south-west. The sketch is also inscribed in pencil above right ‘423’, although the significance of that is unclear.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 9. Image source, Tate

The second sketch, called by the Tate catalogue,‘Wall, with towers’, is taken from a short distance beyond the present-day Bahnhof quay, looking to the Swan Hotel in the centre of the composition framed by nine towers of the Musegg wall and continued to the left above right to include the Hofkirche, whose towers are now almost exactly in line. As the boat made steady progress, the urgency of setting down his observations slightly betrayed him. There are indeed nine towers on the Museggmauer, but only eight present themselves from this viewpoint. The ninth is the Nolli Tower, which is the leftmost, right on the riverside, and hidden from this angle. Turner appears to have drawn the Zytturm twice, fourth and fifth from the left.

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Lucerne from the Stansstad steamer. Photograph by Professor David Hill, 28 May 2017, 12.40 CET
J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 9a. Image source, Tate

The third sketch in the sequence is also called ‘Wall with Towers’, and is taken from a viewpoint still further out into the lake, with the the Tour Baghard and Swan Hotel centring the composition flanked by the Kapellbrucke and Hofbrucke, all haloed by the towers of the Musegg wall. 

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Towers of Lucerne from the Lake. Photograph by Professor David Hill, 28 May 2017, 12.42 CET

Here, again, there appears to be an issue with the number of his towers. There should be eight visible from this viewpoint, but Turner has only seven. Starting from the Mannliturm towards the left, we can see the Leugisland, Huy Zyt and Schirmer towers correctly given. The final, lowest, tower is the Dachliturm but between that and the Schirmer tower, there should be two more towers, the Pulver and Allwinden, but Turner gives only one.

J.M.W.Turner, Lucerne [and Mountains across the Lake],1830-41. Tate D34105; Turner Bequest TB CCCXLI 382. Image source, Tate

It is such a striking composition that Turner sketched exactly the same view on a separate visit, this time on grey paper and highlighted with white chalk. Rather oddly, the sketch on grey paper presents the same issue with regard to the towers. Looking again at both sketches it appears that Turner does indicate two towers one behind the other where the Pulver and Allwinden towers should be. Over the years I have learned never to push too hard at Turner’s apparent mistakes. He almost always turns the table and proves to be right, usually to the embarrassment of the accuser.

Wall, with Towers circa 1841 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D33149

Before leaving this page we should pause to consider a detail. This is a little hard to make out, but with the page turned to portrait format, this might be understood as a figure leaning over a tiller or an oar. Many of the lake rowing boats at this time were guided by an oarsman (frequently a woman) standing at the stern. This might be a clue that Turner took a rowed boat for this crossing rather than the steamer. That would have given him more leisure and a more restful ambience for making sketches. We will encounter the delights of rowed lake crossings later on in this same sketchbook.

J.M.W.Turner, Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 10. Image source, Tate

Turner’s final two sketches of Lucerne, both currently called ‘View on Lake’, are taken as the boat approached and rounded Tribschen point, a little over a mile from its depature point. In the main sketch Turner makes an exaggerated sweep round the shore to include Mont Pilatus at the left, and in the second, the final glimpse of Lucerne as the boat rounded the point.

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View on Lake circa 1841 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D33150
Lucerne from off Tribschen point. Photograph by David Hill, 28 May 2014, 12.50 CET

It is one of those excellent coincidences of art that the house to the left is that in which Richard Wagner lived 1866-1872 and composed some of his masterpieces, including Meistersinger von Nurnberg, the Emperor March, parts of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, as well as the famous Siegfried Idyll. This was two decades after Turner’s death, sadly, given that Wagner seems so much the soundtrack to Turner’s art, and likewise Turner’s art the landscape embodiment of the music. It looks very much as if Turner was thinking that it might have made an attractive base for himself.

Next: A review of Turner’s Lucerne sketches.

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