In Turner’s Footsteps around Lucerne: A survey of sketches, part #2

Here we continue in Turner’s Footsteps around Lucerne, with the first of three sketchbooks in addition to the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook that has been our main subject in previous instalments. Turner visited Lucerne on each of his annual Swiss tours between 1841 and 1844, but it is difficult to give certain dates to any of the sketchbooks. There might, however, be some indication that this book was used first.

(1) TB CCCXXVIII Lucerne and Berne sketchbook, ?1841

An upright letter-box format pocket book in maroon paper covers containing 22 leaves (but possibly originally more – 32?) of white wove paper, 6 9/16 x 2 7/8 ins, no WM noted by Finberg. The same format as the TB CCCXXXI Lake of Zug and Goldau sketchbook, but not necessarily from the same visit.

The order of the contents seems a little haphazard, but in general starts off with some sketches in and around Lucerne, and later takes in Berne and Fribourg. The inside front cover contains a sketch that is related to a colour study and studio watercolour of Lucerne from the Walls (Lady Lever Art Gallery). This looks like Turner’s first encounter with the view, and seems to argue a date for this book of 1841, since the sample study appears to have been amongst those offered in the winter of 1841-42, and the finished watercolour worked up in 1842.

Inside front cover, currently listed by Tate online catalogue as ‘[title not known]’

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Lucerne from the Gutsch Hotel. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, 26 May 2014, 19.10 CET

This is a rather hasty sketch of Lucerne as seen from the Gutsch Hotel. The main landmarks are placed accurately, but Turner has taken no great care over their exact form. From right to left we can make out the Wasserturm, Kapellbrucke, Rathaus clock tower, Tour Baghard (with the tower of St Peter’s immediately before it), Swan Hotel, Lederturm (demolished 1848), Mont Rigi in the background, then the Hofkirche, and finally the Musegg wall, looking almost directly along it, with the green hill of the Dietschiberg behind. The alignments place the viewpoint directly at the site of the Gutsch Hotel. The lack of particular detail suggests that Turner had, or intended to collect, more careful material separately.

Lucerne from the Walls: Sample Study

The sketch is related to a colour study in the Turner Bequest TB CCCLXIV 290 (Tate D36145) which Turner offered as one of a series of ‘sample studies’ to clients through his dealer Thomas Griffith in the winter of 1841-42. The study is inscribed on the back J Ruskin Esqr, and the finished watercolour, erroneously called ‘Lucerne from the Walls’ (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside) remained in the Ruskin collection until about 1875.

J.M.W.Turner, Lucerne from the Walls [so-called], 1842. Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside. Image courtesy of Lady Lever AG. Image feed from

The relationship of the pencil sketch to the colour study and watercolour is complex. The colour study opens up the view of the towers on the walls, and appears at first sight to have greater elaboration. It includes for example the Spreuerbrucke, which is not included in the pencil (it would be directly below the clock tower). There is extensive pencil underdrawing in the colour study, and it seems possible that it was begun as an entirely independent sketch. The viewpoint appears to be distinct from the pencil sketch, taken from a viewpoint lower and further right, from the path up to the Gutschwald from the town. It is still possible to follow a stepped path, and one turn particular turn seems to correspond almost exactly with that of the colour study.

Going up the Gutschweg; Mrs Hill assisting. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, 26 May 2014, 12.13 CET

When we were there in May 2014, the greenery flanking the path was coming into full leaf, which rather inconveniently obscured much of the view over the town, nevertheless I managed to see enough through the foliage to confirm it as a distinct viewpoint.

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Lucerne from the Gutschweg. Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, 26 May 2014, 12.15 CET

Exploration, as usual, threw up as many questions as answers. The Spreuerbrucke, prominent in the colour study, looks almost completely invented. At this time there was no tower at its end south end. Nor, indeed is there any sign in the colour study of the Reussbrucke, which spans the river between the Spreuerbrucke and the Kapellbrucke. The Wasserturm is at the wrong end of the Kapellbrucke, and there is no obvious sign of the Hofkirche. Everywhere the towers and buildings are ill defined. Hasty at is, the detail in the pencil sketch corresponds more accurately, and except for some clarification of the Hofkirche in the finished watercolour, the detail remains generic rather than particular.

Not that this diminishes it as art. Turner knew well enough what the specific forms were, and particularised them sufficiently where necessary, especially in the Musegg wall. Now in his advanced sixties, Turner knew that it required little of art to give the facts of a place.

W.H.Bartlett, Lucerne, engraving, 1836. Image courtesy of the V&A, London

There is a nice engraving by W.H.Bartlett published in 1836 that does that well enough. But Turner’s Lucerne has been built it seems for the express purpose of gazing upon the sublime and of basking in its glare. It takes a bit of effort to be there when the light breaks through, but the citizens had constructed viewing platforms and routes up to them, and were prepared, by this account to put in the effort to make the ascent.

We might wonder what Turner would later have made of the construction in 1887 of a funicular up to the Gutsch Hotel. Or indeed what he might make of the ascent today. To judge by the overgrown state of the path when we walked it in 2014, the citizens give less priority to its prospects these days.

To be continued:

Further sketches from the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook

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