In Turner’s Footsteps around Lucerne: A survey of sketches, part #1

Before taking our leave of Lucerne we should take stock of the sketches we have already seen in the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, and complement those with a survey of Lucerne sketches in other sketchbooks. The chronology of Turner’s visits to the town is by no means fully established, and whilst we can be certain of visits in 1802 and in most years between 1841 and 1844, that schedule may not be complete, and apart from the sketches of 1802, it is by no means certain which of the later sketchbooks can be assigned to which year.


J.M.W.Turner, ‘Lucerne from the Lake’, 1845. Morgan Library, New York.
Image feed from Morgan Library.

The Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook is no exception. The fact that it contains sketches (see pp.3, 3a) related to a watercolour so-called ‘Lucerne from the Lake’ (Morgan Library, New, York) that was painted in 1845 might indicate a date of 1844, but that is a little at variance with the character of the sketches.

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Turner makes a comprehensive circuit of the main features of the town. Starting at the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke and proceeding along the lake front to the Hofkirche, before following the line of the Musegg wall around the back of the town, completing with distant views from along the river Reuss. He finishes by returning to the Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke, before making a reference panorama of the mountains as seen over the water from the lake front. As we noted there, this appears to be Turner’s only pencil study of Mont Rigi in its own right.

The systematic character of the survey is striking and might in itself suggest a first or a last visit. First in that it attempts to comprehend the whole subject, or last in that in that it systematically revisits all the cardinal points. Some further evidence will be required to settle this, but a couple of observations remain to be made. Firstly, given the rapidity of Turner’s sketching style here, the whole circumambulation could easily have been accomplished in one day. There is no evidence here of Turner at all prolonging his stay beyond that. He gives the impression of setting down everything he needs, at least for this occasion. Secondly, the weather appears to have been good. The principal mountains are clearly visible, even so far as the Glarus Alps glimpsed over the lake head. The weather in 1844 is known to have been decidedly wet.

1802 tour of the Alps

Of Turner’s visit to Lucerne in 1802, there are but two identified sketches, both in the Rhine, Strasburg and Oxford sketchbook, TB LXXVII:


https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-the-wasserturm-from-the-river-reuss-d04794

Page 40; Tate D04794, at the time of writing (February 2021) titled by Tate’s online catalogue as ‘Lucerne, the Wasserturm from the River Reuss’. This is incorrect. The sketch records the view from the left bank of the river Reuss, looking across to the Museggmauer, with the Nolli Tower at the water’s edge, and behind the Mannli and Leugisland Towers. We look upstream to the Spreuerbrucke,  and the Jesuit church. The Wasserturm, which occurs in many of Turner’s later sketches, is invisible in this view, hidden around the bend of the river to the left.


https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-lucerne-from-the-banks-of-the-river-reuss-the-rigi-in-the-background-d04777

Page 36; Tate D04777 as ‘Lucerne from the Banks of the River Reuss, the Rigi in the Background’. This shows more-or-less the same material as p.40, but from further down the left bank of the Reuss, from where Turner could take in further towers of the Musegg wall, extending beyond the Leugisland tower (the tallest left of centre) to include, proceeding left, the Hay and Zyt (clock) towers.

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The Rigi rises behind the towers of the Museggmauer. Its peak would appear in the sketch between the two leftmost towers, but appears to be wreathed in cloud. It was around forty years before Turner returned to the site to sketch it in clear conditions, in the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, page 6a. It seems hard to concede that this can be the sum total of Turner’s work in Lucerne in 1802, but it is all that for now can be identified. When I wrote about the 1802 tour in Turner and the Alps (1992), I suggested that the weather might have been poor on this part of his journey.

Whilst thinking about the 1802 tour it is worth mentioning two other sketches in this Rhine, Strasbourg and Oxford sketchbook currently titled by the Tate’s online catalogue as ‘?Lucerne’, pages 42 (D04785) and 41 (D04784). Neither shows Lucerne, but even after much cogitation I cannot suggest an alternative. This is especially frustrating since the former ought to be straightforward and appears to show exactly the same view as a splendid 1840s colour-beginning, Tate D36119; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 272, also called ?Lucerne’.

Visits of the 1840s

Besides the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, pencil sketches of Lucerne occur in three other 1840s sketchbooks, plus a few loose sheets. Turner visited Switzerland in four consecutive years 1841-1844, but, as with Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, some work remains to be done in order to be absolutely certain of the years to which each can be assigned. In what follows, I have arranged them in a tentative chronological order. Further information might well force some revision..

To be continued..

Next: sketches in the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook, ?1841

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