In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #17 By char to Sarnen

Here we continue our journey through Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook. On the previous page we left Turner travelling by char through Alpnach en route for Sarnen. Here his sketches prompt some consideration of his latest mode of travel.

Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, Tate, open at pages 14a-15

The left page contains a landscape subject together with several small thumbnail sketches.

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Mountains, Etc. 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/D33159

The landscape records the view looking back towards the Alpnachersee from near the village of Alpnach. It seems possible that it was made from the same spot approaching the village as the sketch of the church taken on the previous page. It has to be admitted that the drawing is one of Turner’s scratchier efforts, and it seems very likely that it was made from a moving vehicle.

The thumbnail studies are even less controlled. That at the lower left, however, is recognisable as a wheeled vehicle but it is difficult to be certain of any specifics.

Mountains, Etc. 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/D33159

Another thumbnail sketch at the centre of the page shows a seated figure, perhaps a passenger reading or writing, or even drawing. An inscription beneath seems to offer an explanation: I think I can decipher; ‘a person resting on the back of the car’, but that might just be wishful thinking. Turner’s handwriting was bad enough at the best of times, but on the move, almost impossible. Other inscriptions; one at the centre of the page, and another lower left, the latter possibly relating to the cart, appear beyond even guesswork.

The draftsmanship is eloquent, however, of lurching and rattling on the move, and we can be sure that Turner made these notes whilst on the road. As Murray’s Guide intimated chars could be hired at Gestad and taken as far as Lungern.

Murray’s Guide devotes an entertaining section of its introduction to the Swiss Char.

The sketches do indeed speak of ‘a very jolting conveyance’. But Turner could no doubt remember what his ciphers meant and additionally recall every stone, rock and rut that wrote itself onto his page.

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Mountains, Etc. 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/D33160

On the opposite page, Turner managed a full-page sketch of the view up the valley en route between Alpnach and Sarnen. The line descending across the foreground is identifiable as the Gross Schliere, a torrent issuing from the mountains that crosses the road about half a mile from Sarnen. The mountain profiles in the distant correspond roughly to the scenery, but there are all manner of wobbles and approximations. In view of the circumstances, however, it is perhaps a wonder that we can recognise anything at all.

Mountains, Etc. 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/D33159

Next: Tuning into Sarnen

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