In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #13 Villa Stutz, Pilatus and Burgenstock

Here we resume our journey through Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook. Turner continues his boat journey to Stansstad, admiring the splendid Villa Stutz en route and enjoying panoramas of Mont Pilatus in one direction and of the Burgenstock in another.

10v as ‘Castle on Rock; Also View of Pilatus [Turner], Etc.’. Image source, Tate

This page contains three sketches made whilst sailing across Lake Lucerne from Lucerne to Stansstad. The main sketch records the Villa Stutz overlooking Lake Lucerne about half-way between Lucerne and St Niklausen:

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The villa was first built in the sixteenth century and through remodellings and improvements has been for centuries one of the major landmarks on this shore. A map of 1609 marks it specifically, and even gives a detailed drawing.

The house has recently been refurbished. I am grateful to Michael Kneubuhler of the partnership that worked on the building, Denwerk Architeketen for sharing his historical references with me. The building is currently on the market and there is some splendid promotional material online. Turner’s view is from the south-east angle, and records the chapel to the left of the house, together with the Baroque open pavilion that overlooks the lake to the right.

Castle on Rock; Also View of Pilatus [Turner], Etc. circa 1841 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

The second sketch, made at the top of the page with the book upright, records the profile of Mont “Pilatus” from the lake, a little further on from the Villa Stutz towards Stansstad. Sadly, for the purposes of comparison, it was cloudy when we made this crossing in 2014, but Turner would no doubt have enjoyed the effect all the same.

Pilatus Nearing St Niklausen. Photograph by Professor David Hill, 28 May 2014, 12.54 CET

The third sketch, immediately below the second, was taken from a little further along towards Stansstad, off the Haslihorn where the view opens out sufficiently for Turner to take in a panorama stretching from the “Stanserhorn”, s he inscribed it, to Mont Pilatus at the right. Rajaraman Sundaram has a photograph from a similar location on Google Earth which makes a near-perfect comparison. I hope he will not mind my linking to it here:

Turner recorded almost exactly the same panorama in another pencil sketch in the Lucerne and Berne sketchbook, inside back cover.

[title not known] 1841 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

That sketch manages to pan right sufficiently to bring Lucerne into view, if we can interpret the marks at the right as a very hasty note of the arch of the Musegg wall and its towers. In that case Turner must have been further offshore, nearer to Meggen, and perhaps on his way to the north-eastern arm of the lake in the direction of Meggen.  

Turner repeated a similar field of view in a colour study, (TB CCCXXXII 26; D33496, repr Warrell 1995, no.25). This appears to have been detached from a roll sketchbook, the Fribourg, Lausanne and Geneva sketchbook.

Mount Pilatus from Lake Lucerne. Tate TB CCCXXXII; D33496. Image source, Tate

Ruskin called this ‘Mont Pilatus from Kussnacht’. Kussnacht is at the head of the north-eastern arm of Lake Lucerne, but Ian Warrell challenged this in Through Switzerland with Turner, 1995, no.25, and suggested a viewpoint much closer to Lucerne. He also drew attention to the similarity with the present sketch in the Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook. No-one, however, seems to have drawn attention to the castle on a mount, directly beneath the summit of Pilatus. This might be identified as Neuhabsburg Castle near Meggen, on a similar line of sight to the two pencil sketches discussed here, but a little further back. The castle was built by the Habsburg family century in the thirteenth century, and survived as a ruin until 1871 when it was redeveloped into a private Gothic mansion home, and it remains in private hands to this day. The identification requires a site visit to confirm, but an 1875 engraving of the house when new makes the suggestion seem very promising.

1875 engraving of Scloss Neuhabsburg, with Pilatus beyond. Engraving for sale at Booklocker, Lucerne

Turner’s colour studies occasion some debate [particularly with me] as to whether they were painted from nature or developed from pencil sketches. It seems clear, however, that this example is taken from a distinct viewpoint to either pencil sketch, and that it shows a very specific phenomenal effect. Such effects were the principal purpose of Tuner’s colour studies, and although some scholars have doubted that they can have been painted direct from nature; they do, as here, tend to record extremely particular circumstances. Since Ruskin, this study has been called a sunset. But in fact we are looking south-west to the eastern face of Pilatus. So in truth, the pink light on its flanks is that of sunrise. Dense night air lies over the lake surface and the dividing line between sunlight and shade hangs in its moisture across the middle distance.

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Ian Warrell pointed out that the effect as we see it today is not quite so scintillating as when Turner first painted it. There has been some patchy darkening, particularly around the blue cloud in the sky, probably where some unstable medium has reacted over time. To my eyes, however, that adds interest rather than detracts. Here we see Turner stretching his materials beyond their limits in order to do justice to the evanescence and subtlety of his subject. It situates him ever more clearly in a world apart from the crowd. Very few apart from him would have been up at dawn and out with a notebook to witness this.

11r as ‘The Rigi and the Bürgenstock (Vierganttoch [Turner]), from the Lake’. Image source; Tate

Rejoining Turner as his boat progressed past St Niklausen towards Stansstad, looking to port he could encompass the crossroads of the four northern arms of Lake Lucerne.

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Most prominent in view to the right were the steep crags of the Burgenstock. Turner inscribed the sketch ‘Vurgenstock’, presumably recording the boatman’s pronunciation. To the left is the receding profile of Mont Rigi. Conditions were much more moody when I photographed the view in 2014. More evidence of how consistently clear conditions appear to have been for Turner on this particular tour.

Rigi and Burgenstock from off St Niklausen. Photograph by Professor David Hill, 26 May 2014, 12.57 CET

To be continued:

This is a good place to leave Turner for a little while. I am going to take a short break now in Cotman’s Norfolk, but [D.V,. as Ruskin would say] we will resume this tour in due course to land at Stansstad and set out from there on the ascent towards the Brunig Pass.

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