In Turner’s Footsteps between Lucerne and Thun: #18 Sarnen and the Landenberg

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. From what we discover here and on the following page spread, it appears that Turner elected to press on to Lungern before nightfall. He spared time at Sarnen only for a few sketches, but perhaps managed to set down more than their roughness might suggest.

Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, Tate, open at pages 15a-16

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

[On a desktop, right click image for option to open full-size in new tab. Close tab to return to this page.]

This records the view at the entrance to Sarnen approaching the former covered bridge crossing the river Aa, with the mound and church of the “Landenberg” in the centre, and the flanks of the Sarnersee in the distance.

Murray’s Handbook for Tourists in Switzerland (1838) gives the Landenberg a major billing. Turner would have read that in the early fourteenth century a castle on the mound was the residence of a cruel and oppressive Austrian bailiff but on New Year’s day 1308 the citizens rose up and liberated themselves from the Hapsburg yoke. Since 1646 the terrace had served as annual the meeting place of the citizens of the canton. The notion that the area turned around it proves important.

This page has a second sketch made out of sequence towards the end of this tour, showing a steamer on the lake at Brienz. We will return to that in due course.

The opposite page (15v) contains two sketches. It appears that Turner took a walk up the road to the west of the Landenberg to find a viewpoint over the foot of the lake to the mountains on the eastern flank of the valley.

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/D33161

The first part of his sketch across the foot of the page, records the panorama from the twin peaks of the Stanserhorn at the left to the entrance to the Melchertal at the right. It appears that Turner was working so quickly that he spared no time to look at his page to see whether what he was drawing much resembled what he saw.

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/D33161

He continued the panorama to the right tracing the ridge above the right bank of the Sarnersee, terminating at the right with the valley disappearing towards the Brunig Pass. Inscribed towards left ‘Wood’ and ‘Thin [?]’

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/D33161

The curiosity of this sketch is that at its extreme right Turner indicates the sun or moon. Its orientation is almost due south and so low in the sky that it must be a summer moon. One might have seen the moon in this part of the sky at 18.37 on 4 August this year. On that date the sun set at 20.55, so allowing some latitude for the exact date of Turner’s visit, he would in any case have had plenty of daylight left to press on as far as Lungern. The distance is little more than ten miles and even at the steady pace of a char, no more than a couple of hours. Today it takes twenty minutes by car, or twenty-six minutes by train.

Charles Martin, J.M.W.Turner, 1844, Sotheby’s 22 November 2007, lot 126.

Turner had probably left his char and driver at the inn whilst he busied himself recording the scenery.  Sight of the moon setting would no doubt have made him aware that the afternoon was advancing and his drawings show every sign of having been made in some haste. By now, however, he had a lifetime’s experience of sketching on the hoof, and whilst it can certainly be admitted that in comparison with a photograph both sketches are somewhat wayward, it is also certain that they incorporate significant information. Turner never functioned as a passive screen on which appearance projected itself. His was a living, dynamic apprehension, with a depth of perception and grasp of significance that by now drew upon more than fifty years of practice. Rough as these sketches may be, we may be sure that they served to fix an understanding of the place in his memory.

Turner’s Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, Tate, open at pages 16a-17

Returning to the village Turner stopped at the Landenberg to make another couple of sketches. This page spread surpasses even the previous one for brevity.

Source: unterwalden24, die Informations-Plattform von und für die Region …
Mountains 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/D33163

The first sketch (16v) shows the spire of Sarnen Church before the entrance to the Melchertal. When I passed through Sarnen in 2014 I was unable to photograph these views myself, but there is a beautiful comparative photograph on the www.unterwalden24 website.

Turner continued his record of the panorama in three sketches on the opposite page (17r)

Mountains 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/D33164

Firstly, in the left centre and across the upper part of sheet, are a few scrappy marks, probably recording the profile of the hills continuing the sketch on f.16a opposite to the right.

Mountains 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/D33164

Secondly, the main sketch, with the book turned the other way round, records the mountains on the right side of the Sarnertal, including the Hodigrat and Avrigat; the continuation of the sketch on f.16a, opposite, to the left.

Mountains 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/D33164

Finally, at the top with the page turned upright, another quick sketch of mountain profiles, possibly completing the panorama to the left, looking down the valley towards Stansstad.

Turner’s sensibility was essentially geographic. He always sought to understand the cycles and relations that play around and through a site. These cycles and relations operate on both macroscopic and local levels; the geochronological and the present moment; the diluvian and the diurnal; the species and the individual. Sarnen is situated where the valley connecting the Lake of Lucerne to the Brunig Pass intersects with the mouth of the Melchertal. Its landforms are the product of great cycles of geological upheaval and glaciation. Its soils and waters provide the ecology in which biosystems flourish, and human economies have developed. He could not but be drawn to the Landenberg as the place in which all this comes to congregate.

Much of this vocabulary might have bemused Turner but the cycles and relations that it describes nonetheless flowed and swirled through his imagination and are instinct in every observation and mark that he made. His marks also represent his own late-sixty-years old embodiment, as if he was some kind of antenna tuning into the dynamics of every place through which he passed.

Next: Evening over the Sarnersee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s