Rediscovering Kilnsey

Readers might have wondered at the recent inactivity of Sublimesites.co. Old friends will know such lapses are not infrequent. But I have not been idle. In fact I have been rummaging in a box of transparencies dating back to 1983, and encountering my former self.

The occasion of all this was a Turner watercolour that I came across on the splendid website of Andrew Clayton Payne. This appears under the title of ‘Bridge in a Mist’, but I recognised it as Kilnsey Crag and Conistone Bridge in Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire.

Continue reading “Rediscovering Kilnsey”

England and Wales Revisited: #35 Holy Island, Northumberland

W. Tombleson after J.M.W.Turner R.A.
Holy Island, Northumberland, 1832
Etching and engraving, image 166 x 245, on plate 251 x 300, printed in black ink on india paper, 239 x 291, bonded to backing sheet of heavyweight white wove paper, not watermarked 399 x 562 mm
Proof before letters, as per Rawlinson’s first published state; one of the few subjects to have no inscription in its first published proof state. ‘JMWT’ monogram blind stamp (good impression) towards lower right edge of image. This mark was applied to every item sold from Turner’s studio in the sales at Christie’s of 1873 and 1874.
Proof impression and first published state of plate issued 1832 as plate 35 of ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’ Part 9, no.3.
Private Collection

This is the second instalment of a new series of articles in which I will revisit each of the 96 sites depicted by J.M.W.Turner in his series of engravings ‘Picturesque View in England and Wales’. These were published over a period of ten years between 1827 and 1837 but represent subjects drawn from his entire career. Overall the scope of the series is epic and sublime. It teems with imagery and detail, human comedy and drama, history, and the accumulated knowledge of every effect and experience that a lifetime of being in the world might witness. It is positively Miltonic in scope, breadth and power, and luminous in its sympathy for the human condition. It is also represents the very summit of the art of engraving and printing by hand, just at the point where the production of images was about to be overtaken by photography and industrial publication. The order in which I tackle the subjects will perforce be dictated by opportunity and circumstance. For the time being I will concentrate on Northumberland subjects. Here we consider Turner’s image of Holy Island, Northumberland, the most northerly subject of the England and Wales series.

Turner: Northern Exposure
Watercolour of Holy Island to left

The subject is one of those included in the current exhibition of Turner: Northern Exposure currently showing at the Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed, until Sunday 13 October [see https://www.turnernorthernexposure.co.uk/%5D. This is a small, but exquisite display of subjects related to Turner’s first tour to the north of England in 1797. In it, we argue that this tour was the key formative event of his early career: His exposure to the scenery and weather of the north opened up to him the poetic power of the landscape sublime. From that time he returned to subjects sketched then at regular intervals throughout his career. The exhibition moves on to Carlisle in the autumn, and then to Harrogate in the spring of 2020, at each venue with a fresh focus on the area relevant to the venue. I hope to feature a few more subjects relating to each area as the exhibition develops.

Maps best viewed full size. Click on image to enlarge.

The present subject is the view of Lindisfarne church, abbey and castle as seen from the tiny St Cuthbert’s Isle off the south-west tip of the island. The island can only be accessed on foot at low tide, and only a relatively small proportion of visitors ever bother to make the crossing.

Lindisfarne Church, Priory, Coastguard Station and Castle from St Cuthbert’s Isle
Photograph taken by David Hill, 2 July 2019, 20.41 BST

Turner’s only sketches on Holy Island date from his tour of the north of England in 1797. At the age of twenty-two, he was principally interested in developing his reputation for architectural subjects, and so devoted the majority of his time to five excellently detailed sketches of the interior of Lindisfarne Priory. His sketch of the present subject, however precedes those and must record his first impression, immediately on arrival.

Holy Island, Northumberland, 1797
Pencil on paper, 210 x 270 mm
A page from the ‘North of England’ sketchbook, Tate, London, Turner Bequest, TB XXXIV 51, Tate D00959
To see this in Tate’s online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click here, and use you browser’s back button to return to this page
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-holy-island-general-view-from-the-sea-d00959

It was the architectural subjects that Turner concentrated on for watercolours developed immediately after the visit, but when he thought about the island of Lindisfarne thirty years later for ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’, it was his arrival that he remembered.

J.M.W.Turner
Holy Island, Northumberland, 1829
Watercolour, 292 x 432 mm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Image courtesy of V&A, to view in Museum’s own online catalogue click here.
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1028632/holy-island-northumberland-watercolour-turner-joseph-mallord/

Holy Island is one of a considerable number of England and Wales subjects that Turner sketched on his first northern tour of 1797. It would appear that there remained for him deep, unfinished business with the observations made when his younger self first set out to seriously experience the wider world.

Turner’s engraved subjects are always worth examining closely for their figures. Turner’s sympathies were always drawn towards those whose lives exposed them most to the elements, and whose livings were dependent on their knowledge and understanding of nature. Here a small boat has pulled up in the surf to the right, and passengers are enjoying something of a foot-wetting on the shore whilst goods are offloaded.

Turner is presumably recalling his own mode of arrival as a young man in 1797, when he came to Lindisfarne from Bamburgh. The most direct route would have been to take a ferry boat. The coast would have been teeming with boatmen offering such services. In Turner in the North (Yale University Press, 1996) I wrote: ‘A ferry-boat has just landed in the teeth of a fierce squall, and passengers paddle to the shore, no doubt relieved. A gales has whipped up, and one of the boatmen has to hold on to the boat to prevent it drifting away. One cannot image much enthusiasm for the return crossing. More cautious boatmen have sheeted their boats on the beach.’

Most modern visitors give little thought to Lindisfarne’s maritime identity. The contemporary access is by car over the causeway to the north-western part of the island. The sands crossing was always a route for pilgrims on foot or carters leading horses, but it must be obvious that there is very little at either end of the causeway – nothing at all at the Lindisfarne side, which suggest that this route was always something of a detour. The castle guards the main boat landing; the village and abbey cluster at the most sheltered access to the sea, and the principal historical route of communication was always from the royal castle of Bamburgh to the south.

Bamburgh Castle from St Cuthbert’s Isle
Photograph taken by David Hill, 2 July 2019, 20.44 BST

Nowadays the visitor might be little aware of Lindisfarne’s essentially maritime character, unless one wonders why the settlement was founded at the south-west tip of the island. The contemporary frisson of excitement of a visit to Lindisfarne is the driving over the causeway. This is a relatively recent adventure for the motorist, since the tarmac roadway was built only in 1954. Before then the route was best left to tractors and horse-drawn carts. Pedestrian visitors can still enjoy the original experience by following the poles marking the pilgrim’s way. Bare legs or waders are recommended; it is a soft and silty expedition, and best done only under the leadership of a guide. Generally today, the excitement is all too frequently about incautious tourists who ignore tide warnings, and end up with their cars awash. A contemporary Turner might well find a subject in such hubris.

Revisiting the Holy Island of Turner’s England and Wales raises the issue of changing modes of access. And that, indeed, was one of the core themes for Turner. He remembers his own mode of approach in the foreground, but in the far distance introduces a detail specific to the date of the watercolour, a modern steamboat chugging along the horizon. Steam boats were unthought of in 1797. The first trials were made in the 1810s and regular North Sea coastal services were established in the early 1820s. The great advantage of steam was that ships could make progress almost no matter whatever was the state of the winds. This ship ploughs its way south into a southerly squall, decidedly poor conditions for a journey in a small open boat. The detail is a measure of how much things had changed in the thirty years between the sketch and the engraving, but also of how much [as represented by the foreground] remained the same. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves than when the steamship Forfarshire famously ran onto the Farne rocks in 1838, it was in a rowing boat that Grace Darling set out to the rescue. Come to think of it, that might easily be the Forfarshire passing here!

Apart from that, it is striking how many of the figures here are children. One wonders whether they perhaps went to school on the mainland? The time of day is morning, with the sun slanting in from the east, so they might all be setting out. Certainly it looks as if the boatman is beckoning them aboard, and none of the putative passengers are at all enthusiastic to respond. Turner seems to be suggesting something of the educative character of his own journey of 1797, and that real knowledge of nature is only drawn from thorough immersion in it.

England and Wales Revisited: # 34 Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

J.T.Willmore after J.M.W.Turner R.A.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, 1832
Etching and engraving, image 164 x 233, on plate 246 x 302, printed in black ink on india paper, 241 x 298, bonded to backing sheet of heavyweight white wove paper, not watermarked 399 x 562 mm
Inscribed in neat script centred below image, ‘Engrvd by J.T.Willmore from a Drawing by J.M.W.Turner R.A.’. ‘JMWT’ monogram blind stamp (good impression) towards lower right edge of image. This mark was applied to every item sold from Turner’s studio in the sales at Christie’s of 1873 and 1874.
Proof impression and first published state of plate issued 1832 as plate 34 of ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’ Part 9, no.2.
Private Collection

This is the first instalment of a new series of articles in which I will revisit each of the 96 sites depicted by J.M.W.Turner in his series of engravings ‘Picturesque View in England and Wales’. These were published over a period of ten years between 1827 and 1837 but represent subjects drawn from his entire career. Overall, the series is epic in scale and scope. It teems with imagery and detail, human comedy and drama, history, and the accumulated knowledge of every effect and experience that a lifetime of being in the world might witness. It is positively Miltonic in scope, breadth and power, and luminous in its sympathy for the human condition. It is also represents the very summit of the art of engraving and printing by hand, just at the point where the production of images was about to be overtaken by photography and industrial publication. The order in which I tackle the subjects will be directed by opportunity and circumstance. I begin at one of the most northerly subjects, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.

The subject is one of those included in the exhibition Turner: Northern Exposure currently showing at the Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed until Sunday 13 October [see https://www.turnernorthernexposure.co.uk/%5D. This is a small, but exquisite display of subjects related to Turner’s first tour to the north of England in 1797. Its argument is that this tour was the key formative event of his early career: His exposure to the scenery and weather of the north opened up to him the poetic power of the landscape sublime. He returned to subjects sketched then at regular intervals throughout his career. The exhibition moves on to Carlisle in the autumn, and then to Harrogate in the spring of 2020, each venue offering a fresh focus on its immediate area. I hope to feature a few more subjects relating to each area as the exhibition develops.

[click on image to enlarge]

Tuner’s subject at Alnwick is the castle seen over the Lion Bridge from the NNW. Alnwick is one of the finest palace castles in the north, the seat of the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland. It was started not long after the Norman conquests, and has been remodelled by successive generations to the present day. The bridge was built in 1775 by John Adam as part of extensive work on the castle and estate. It is famous for the stone lion on its parapet, emblem of the Percy family.

Alnwick Castle, with the Lion Bridge 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00951

Turner’s only sketches at Alnwick date from his visit in 1797. On that occasion he sketched three subjects, the gateway to Alnwick Abbey, the tower of St Michael’s Church, and the view of the castle across the bridge.

Alnwick Castle
Photograph taken by David Hill, 1993

The viewpoint of the exhibited work is perfectly preserved today, in a field just to the west of the bridge. There is no public right of way, but in any case I can say that the view today is rather occluded by the growth of trees. Turner’s original sketch was made from a position just below the level of the parapet. We can just see the cast lead lion on the far side with its distinctive horizontal tail.

Comparison quickly reveals that the castle differs considerably in its details today, particularly in respect of the main block of the keep called the Prudhoe Tower towards the right. Although this appears to be medieval, it was built between 1854 and 1857, and Turner’s sketch accurately records the appearance of the castle before its mid nineteenth century remodelling. My photograph was taken in the mid-1990s when there were fewer trees, or at least they were very much smaller than they are today. Even so. I had to retreat further from the bridge than Turner in order to bring the castle into clear view. Today that is still more necessary, but it is entertaining to be able to judge from the old photograph exactly how much individual specimens have flourished in the interval.

J.M.W.Turner
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, 1829
Watercolour on paper, 283 x 483 mm
Australia, Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia
Image courtesy of Google Art project:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J.M.W._Turner_-_Alnwick_Castle_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Following the sketch of 1797, it was more than thirty years before Turner returned to the subject to develop a watercolour [Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide] engraved in 1829 and published in 1830 for his series of ‘Picturesque Views of England and Wales’. It is perhaps one of the most extraordinary conceptions of the whole series, for Turner imagined the scene by night, with the full moon rising over the castle.

J.T.Willmore after J.M.W.Turner R.A.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, 1832
Etching and engraving, image 164 x 233, on plate 246 x 302, printed in black ink on india paper, 241 x 298, bonded to backing sheet of heavyweight white wove paper, not watermarked 399 x 562 mm
Inscribed in neat script centred below image, ‘Engrvd by J.T.Willmore from a Drawing by J.M.W.Turner R.A.’. ‘JMWT’ monogram blind stamp (good impression) towards lower right edge of image. This mark was applied to every item sold from Turner’s studio in the sales at Christie’s of 1873 and 1874.
Proof impression and first published state of plate issued 1832 as plate 34 of ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’ Part 9, no.2.
Private Collection

Call me slow on the uptake if you like, but it was only this Spring when writing the captions for the Berwick exhibits that it occurred to me to wonder about the accuracy of the effect. The moon is shown low in the south-south-east, which is only possible in midsummer. In 2018, the furthest south it rose was on 28 June when at 129 degrees. Here it is seen at 157 degrees, and at an elevation of little more than twenty degrees, which would be about right for midsummer. It’s more than a little surprising that no-one else seems ever to have enquired about how true Turner’s effect might be.

Never one to resist a potential wild goose chase, I found myself driving northward on  Monday 17 June, when the nearest full moon this year to the summer solstice was scheduled. After two of the wettest June weeks on record this seemed an enterprise fraught with improbability. Despite the fact that it was a pleasant evening with a clearing forecast, I could not quite dispel the doubts seeded by my son who observed that there is no hint of the moon in the sketch and that as an artist Turner could put his moon in his picture wherever he liked and putting it where he did  look more than a little artful.

Alnwick 17 June 2019, 21.52.
Photograph taken by David Hill

I took up position just before ten o’clock with the sun setting behind me and the whole scene brightly lit, except for what appeared ominously like a veil of cloud across the southern sky. No sign whatsoever of the forecast moonrise at 21.59. Half an hour later; still no sign, but a solitary bright star [actually, as I subsequently discover, the planet Jupiter] hanging encouragingly where I would like to see the moon.

Alnwick, 17 June 2019, 22.38
Photograph taken by David Hill

With dusk thickening rapidly a large white owl appeared over the meadow by the river. Shifting position a little to see whether the moon might spotted, suddenly a deer darted up out of the long grass and bounded up the hill into the trees.

And then, suddenly there it was, five to eleven and the moon just lifting into view from behind a distant bank of cloud.

Alnwick, 17 June 2019, 22.55
Photograph taken by David Hill

Another three-quarters of an hour, 23.36, it was in the perfect position; exactly where Turner put it in the picture.

Alnwick, 17 June 2019, 23.36
Photograph by David Hill

The only problem now was that it was pitch black on the ground. There are cattle in the field below the bridge; their pats so easy to avoid in daylight that I had completely failed to register that there were so many. In so short a distance. So fresh.

Alnwick after Turner, 17 June 2019, 23.36
Photograph by David Hill (final version)

So, what might this mean, if anything? After all, the reason no-one has ever enquired into the truth of the effect is most likely to stem from the fact that no-one ever thought it mattered. But standing there in the middle of the night, watching the moon move into perfect enactment of Turner’s representation felt very much like a demonstration that he hadn’t just made it up. One conclusion that could be immediately drawn is that Turner didn’t make his sketch by moonlight. Even by the light of a full moon, it is just too dark. So the sketch, as one always imagined, was made during the day.

Alnwick, 17 June 2019, 23.36
Photograph by David Hill

So how did he know about the moon? Well, presumably he saw it. It’s not at all difficult to imagine him looking out from his inn, seeing a full moon in the offing and wandering down to the bridge to look at the castle under those conditions. And from the bridge the moon sits EXACTLY where Turner puts it.

Alnwick Castle: Moon from bridge. 17 June 2019 23.44
Photograph by David Hill

And there are reflections in the water.

Alnwick Castle: Moonlit reflections, 17 June 2019, 23.46
Photograph by David Hill

And this is exactly what Turner devoted his whole existence to. He must have watched the moon climb into the sky on countless occasions, glint upon rivers, creeks and the sea, silver meadows, buildings and trees. No-one can ever have stored up more knowledge of such things. And that is exactly what this picture does. After an interval of thirty years it takes a memory and clarifies it with his entire stock of experience accumulated during that time.

But it matters still more that he didn’t just make this up, even from his vast experience. It matters very greatly that the image has an indexical relationship to a real phenomenon. It might index to any number of conceptions and imaginings great and even profound. But for it to index to the real is to establish a connection to something beyond conception, to the sublime, to the other, to the not imagined. What I admire in Turner most is the sense that he continually gives that he is reporting on something discovered. That there is something altogether else that what we might imagine, and that we might get some inkling of it if we listen or look attentively enough.

Turner and Scotland #2: Loch Lomond from Colonel Lascelles’ monument, 1801

Lomond detail
Loch Lomond from near Inverbeg
Photograph by David Hill, taken 2 May 2018, 12.05 GMT

This article returns to a subject briefly visited in an article of 10 April 2016 in which I discussed a Turner watercolour of Ben Arthur from near Arrochar. I had not time then to investigate the subject in any detail, but finally last week managed to visit the exact spot. Regular readers will know that I find wild goose chases hard to resist. This involved searching for a roadside detail that appears have been entirely forgotten. As it turned out the specific search proved fruitless, but the visit did enable me to exactly photograph Turner’s general view, and to make a surprising discovery about his selectivity.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J M W Turner
Loch Lomond from Colonel Lascelles’s Monument near Inverbeg, 1801
Pencil on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03282-83, Turner Bequest TB LVII 3a-4 as ‘A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right’
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-a-wooded-cliff-beside-the-old-military-road-along-loch-lomond-with-the-loch-and-ben-d03283

Lomon pano crop SS
Loch Lomond from near Inverbeg
Photograph by David Hill, taken 2 May 2018, 12.56 GMT

The sketch is a double-page spread from near the beginning of Turner’s ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook at the Tate. He used the book on a tour of Scotland made in 1801. He was already 550 miles into the journey when he took out the book at Glasgow. He had journeyed north via Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland to Edinburgh and Glasgow. His subsequent journey took him up the west shore of Loch Lomond as far as Tarbet, and then across to Inverary, back east through Tyndrum to Loch Tay, and then as far north as Blair Atholl before returning south through Stirling, Lanark, Moffat and Gretna to the English Lake District. This sketchbook records Turner’s first entry into the Scottish Highlands.

Scotland map
Map of Turner’s tour of Scotland in 1801
Scanned from exhibition catalogue of ‘Turner in Scotland’, Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1982

The few previous pages are quick snatches of scenes, probably made on the hoof, but this is the first to set down a scene carefully. The atmosphere appears still and hazy for the mountains are reduced to flat silhouettes of tone.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

In many ways the subject represents a return to familiar ground. In previous years Turner had developed his sense of mountains in the Lake District and North Wales, and Loch Lomond presented him with a well-rehearsed composition of mountains seen over water. The subject must have registered with him, nonetheless, for he developed it into a more elaborate ‘finished’ pencil drawing in a series of fifty or so ‘Scottish Pencils’. These appear to have been made to be mounted in an album as an elaborate prospectus to be shown to prospective patrons who might commission a finished treatment in watercolour or oils.

The Road along the Western Shore of Loch Lomond, with the Tablet to Colonel Lawless on a Rock, and Ben Lomond in the Right Distance beyond the Loch 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J.M.W.Turner
Loch Lomond from near Inverbeg, 1801
Gouache and graphite on paper, 345 x 492 mm
Tate, London, D03380, Turner Bequest, TB LVIII 1 as ‘The Road along the Western Shore of Loch Lomond, with the Tablet to Colonel Lawless on a Rock, and Ben Lomond in the Right Distance beyond the Loch’.
Image courtesy of Tate.
To see this image in Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-the-road-along-the-western-shore-of-loch-lomond-with-the-tablet-to-colonel-lawless-d03380

In this case, however there was an element that provided him with a specific occasion. The original sketch is inscribed at the bottom left: ‘Colonel Lascelles/ Regiment/ May the 18th/ 1745’. The name has previously been transcribed as ‘‘Colonel Lawless’. The Colonel in question is rather Peregrine Lascelles (1685-1772) born in Whitby and in 1743 appointed Colonel of his own Regiment of Foot, the 58th, later renumbered as the 47th. One of his regiment’s first deployments was to forge the new military road up the west shore of Loch Lomond, part of a new route from Dumbarton to Inverary. This was the first proper road along the shores of Loch Lomond. Previously goods, animals and people would have traversed the lake by boat. The inscription that Turner recorded presumably recorded the completion of this particular stretch on 18 May 1745.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Turner would have been immediately drawn to the name of Lascelles. The Lascelles family, Earls of Harewood in Yorkshire were Turner’s major patrons at this time, and Turner might easily have assumed a connection. The Lascelles had in recent years commissioned a number of substantial and expensive works from him, and Turner might have hoped that this was a subject with direct appeal. Although some connection does seem likely – the family has deep North Yorkshire roots – I have not yet managed to establish any link between the Harwood and Whitby branches of the family. Whitby Museum has a portrait of him by Godfrey Kneller, and there is a fine memorial to him in Whitby Church.

Turner would also have been struck by the date on the inscription at Loch Lomond. 1745 is the year of one of the key historical events of the eighteenth century, the rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the second Jacobite rebellion. Colonel Lascelles’s regiment had been raised in Scotland in 1741, and when Lascelles was appointed commander in 1743 its troop had no battle experience. Their military function here was to extend the routes of communication across which soldiers and their equipment could be deployed in the highlands, thus consolidating the jurisdiction established after the first Jacobite rebellion in 1715. Shortly after the soldiers had dated their memorial here, however, on 19 August Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan.

Glenfinnan #2-Edit
Monument to the ’45 at Glenfinnan
Photograph by David Hill, taken c.1985

The regiment accidentally found itself on the front line of a war and on 21 September faced the Highland army at Prestonpans, not far east of Edinburgh. The English army was small, almost completely inexperienced and was routed. Lascelles was left deserted on the field, and although captured and disarmed was somehow allowed by the Highlanders to proceed on his way.

Stanfield prestonpans small
William Richardson after Clarkson Stanfield
Battlefield of Prestonpans, 1842
Engraving
Published as an illustration to edition of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Waverley, Edinburgh, 1842.

In 1801 the Jacobite rebellion was still a relatively recent memory and the Lascelles monument on Loch Lomond seems to have been a well-known and conspicuous landmark and recorded at least twice by contemporaries.

The first is by a literary figure almost equally illustrious as Turner. Dorothy Wordsworth visited the spot during a tour of Scotland in 1803 in the company of her brother, William and the equally esteemed poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. On Wednesday 24 August she made an evening walk with William from Luss and recorded this spot in her ‘Journal of Recollections’ (Carol Kyros Walker (ed), Dorothy Wordsworth: Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland (1803), Yale UP 1997, pp.119):

We called to mind with pleasure a seat under the braes of Loch Lomond on which I had rested, where the traveller is informed by an inscription upon a stone that the road was made by Col. Lascelles’ regiment. There, the spot had not been chosen merely as a resting place, for there was no steep ascent in the highway, but it might be for the sake of a spring of water and a beautiful rock, or, more probably, because at that point the Labour had been more than usually toilsome in hewing through the rock.

The following year the historian James Denholm published a ‘History of the city of Glasgow’, including ‘A Tour to the principal Scotch and English Lakes’. He also noticed the Lascelles monument;

Denholm 1804

One particularly useful of Denholm’s account is that it fixes the situation of the monument very precisely at the fifteenth mile stone. The mile stones are marked on the early large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, so it is possible to narrow down the location very precisely.

OS 2nd ed Loch Lomond-3
Sheet 38 Loch Lomond – Ordnance Survey One-inch to the mile maps of Scotland, 2nd Edition, 1885-1900
http://maps.nls.uk/view/74488742

It puzzled me that no more recent reference to the monument presented itself, so I contacted the Dumbarton Museum to ask if there was any record. Rather to my surprise, the staff there had never heard of it and seemed sure that it has never been listed in the archaeological record. Rather ominously, I learned that the road (the modern high-quality A82) had been considerably improved and widened in the 1980s, and this had involved much blasting of the lochside to create a new fast carriageway. Had they known about it, the blasters would presumably have at least recorded the monument and perhaps even preserved it in a nearby location. Slim chance, perhaps, but it was in hope that it had somehow escaped that I resolved to at least take a look.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

But what exactly was I looking for? Turner’s depiction of the monument – possibly the only visual record ever made – requires some careful scrutiny. Denholm describes an ‘Inscription cut on the rock upon the left’ and Dorothy Wordsworth mentions ‘a seat under the braes’ as well as ‘a spring of water and a beautiful rock’. Denholm seems to imply that the inscription was cut into the native rock, and at first I imagined a large inscription carved into the rock face.

OS 2nd ed Loch Lomond- detail streams
GE Lomond shore

So armed with the precise location of the fifteenth mile stone, and some idea of the quest, I parked up in the car park just south of the location. It is easy to map the old OS map to the contemporary topography, for the streams running into the loch are very easy to locate. Each forms its own beach of pebbles where it discharges into the loch. The modern car parks on the loch side are at Firkin point – the shingle to the right, and at the unnamed shingle to the left of the Google Earth detail. The site of the fifteenth miles stone was just above the stream that issues into the loch between them.

Lomon pano crop SS
Loch Lomond from near Inverbeg
Photograph by David Hill, taken 2 May 2018, 12.56 GMT

Just above stream outlet marking the fifteenth mile post, the road levels out for half a mile before Firkin Point. From the footpath by the loch the opposite side of the road comes clearly into view. It is all now screened by the shrubby growth of hazel and birch, but in the first week of May was still visible through the buds of leaf. Beyond the Armco barriers and broad tarmac there was no sign of any fifteenth mile stone but near where it must have stood was a south-facing rock face of almost exactly the same proportions and shape as in Turner’s sketch.

I should not, perhaps recommend this to anyone else, but waiting for a gap in the traffic (and believe me, the road is of ample quality to facilitate speeds approaching ninety miles an hour in some drivers) I managed to effect a crossing, and wriggled my way through the trunks and branches on the other side. The rock certainly looked comparable to Turner’s, and was covered with moss, but no amount of scanning, or scraping of moss would reveal any inscription. Rather discouragingly, all around and underfoot were signs of disturbance. Shattered rock was everywhere, spread six feet deep or more to make the roadbed above the loch, and heaped up like blown leaves at the foot of the crag. I walked the roadside for a couple of hundred yards in each direction, but to no avail.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

So, disappointment. The blasters appear to have destroyed it. There is, however some slight hope remaining. Musing over Turner’s sketch and Dorothy Wordsworth’s account, a remote possibility remains. Dorothy Wordsworth speaks of a ‘seat’, and closer inspection of Turner’s sketch serves to support the idea. He shows two steps leading up to a single-seat recess, and the inscription was presumably carved on the back of the seat. One thought did occur to me on site, and that was that the native rock here is a heavily foliated schist. A pretty rock, but not ideal material in which to carve an inscription. It occurred to me that the inscription might have been carved in contrasting material, perhaps the fine sandstone that occurs further south around Glasgow. It also occurred to me looking at Turner’s drawing in the light of what I had found, that the modern road level is several feet higher than that built by Lascelles’s regiment, and that the seat apparent in Turner’s sketch might not have been destroyed so much as buried in the scree of the modern roadbed. Perhaps this is not quite a strong enough argument for digging quite yet, but enough not to discount its survival entirely.

The trip was worthwhile in any case for the general view that Turner recorded, and as it transpired the subject was not quite as previous cataloguers and myself had assumed. The Tate’s new catalogue of the Turner Bequest calls it ‘A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right’. This seemed uncontroversial until I stood at the sight and realised that Turner had not included Ben Lomond at all.

A Wooded Cliff beside the Old Military Road along Loch Lomond, with the Loch and Ben Lomond to the Right 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Lomon pano crop SS
Lomon pano full

In Turner’s sketch the highest peak at the right is that of Ptarmigan (731m). The actual summit of Ben Lomond (974m) is beyond the right edge of the field of view. This seems to want some explanation, for surely we might expect Turner to include the prominent summit of the titular mountain of the region. The explanation might be as simple as the summit being obscured by cloud. While I was pondering this a couple of cyclists from Glasgow, making their way up the Loch Lomond cycleway towards Tarbet stopped for a chat. It was a splendid clear day. ‘Look – Ben Lomond’, one said, ‘We don’t see that very often’.

But conditions in the sketch appear to be good. The flat haze of the profiles of the mountains seems to be that of a still humid day rather than a cloudy one. It seems more likely that Turner’s cropping was intentional, and designed to give the composition a sense of immediacy and of involvement. It is a well-known property of photography that the more one attempts to include, the more staged, stilted and detached seems to be the result.

Lomdon full
Lomond detail

Either way, as he made his way northwards, Turner had plenty of opportunity to study the mountain, and to make a number of sketches and more finished works.

It might be nice to give some space to thinking about those in more detail. Hopefully on another trip…

Lomond Key image

A newly-identified Val d’Aosta subject by Turner

Sometimes Sublime Sights appear completely out of the blue. The well-known scholar Timothy Wilcox recently sent me a photograph of the watercolour reproduced below. It forms part of an exceptional private collection which Tim is cataloguing for publication in due course. It appears to have been acquired as a Turner by an ancestor of the present owner, but was not included in Andrew Wilton’s catalogue of Turner watercolours published in 1979. Wilton worked through the collection systematically, and presumably rejected this example, and it has languished in the margins of the collection ever since. I had not seen it before, but it occurred to me that it might relate to works that I studied for the exhibition of ‘Turner, Mont Blanc and La Vallee d’Aosta’ held at the Archaeological Museum of Aosta in Northern Italy in 2000. I can now offer an identification of its subject and occasion, and propose for it an unsuspected importance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

J.M.W.Turner
The Ponte de la Villette, above Courmayeur, looking down the Val d’Aosta, Italy, 1836
Graphite and watercolour on paper, 241 x 343 mm (9 ½ x 13 ½)
Private Collection, UK, as ‘An Alpine landscape with a village’
Photograph by Timothy Wilcox, and reproduced by permission

This is a rapid and energetic watercolour sketch of an Alpine valley. In the left foreground a wooden bridge crosses a torrent to a few houses backed by steep slopes. The water flows away to the right down a valley closed by a snow-capped peaks. Beyond the bridge a ravine apparently disgorges an avalanche into the main river. The details are made out directly in watercolour over a few sparse graphite indications, and the sketch shows every indication of having been made direct from nature.

GE Pont de la Villette
Google Earth ‘Streetview’ image of the view across the Ponte de la Villette and the Val d’Aosta

The subject can be identified as the Ponte de la Villette which spans the Dora Baltea a little way above Courmayeur near the head of the Val d’Aosta.

GE Courmayeur
Google Earth aerial view of Courmayeur, marking Turner’s viewpoint at the Ponte de la Villette

The view spans an angle of view of 90 degrees, sweeping round to take in the view down the valley towards the distant peaks of the Monte Colmet range (3024m). The modern bridge is a single-span concrete deck. When I explored the area in 1999, I was unaware of the present watercolour, so took no photographs from the exact viewpoint. I did, however, take one of the modern bridge, looking downstream to Monte Crammont. That photograph more-or-less continues the view of the present watercolour to the right.

Courmayeur, near over Pont de la Villette

The Ponte de la Villette above Courmayeur, looking down the Val d’Aosta
Photograph by David Hill, June 1999

Turner visited the area in 1836 on a tour to the Alps in the company of his Scottish patron Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar. The story is told in full in ‘Turner, Mont Blanc and the Val d’Aosta’.

Aosta 2000 SS
Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Archaeological Museum, Aosta, Northern Italy, June-September 2000

Briefly, they travelled to Geneva and explored Lac Leman before taking the Arve valley to Mont Blanc and its slopes around Chamonix. They then proceeded by mule and on foot around the modern-day route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, crossing the Cols du Bonhomme and de la Seigne to Courmayeur. From there they travelled south down the Val d’Aosta to Turin, and Turner’s return journey took him over the Mont Cenis pass to Lanslebourg and Chambery. I have written about a subject from earlier in the same tour for a previous article on Sublimesites.co (‘Turner at Sallanches, 1836’, 19 March 2015).

GE Route from Geneva to Aosta
Google Earth; Aerial view of Turner’s route from Geneva to Aosta

The trek from Chamonix to Courmayeur is three days of hard work, albeit across a sublime landscape of snow-strewn passes, avalanche-swept couloirs, past a succession of aiguilles and high snow peaks, together with several glaciers, not least those of the Miage and Brenva sweeping down from Mont Blanc to the Valle Blanche on the final descent to Courmayeur.

Turner rested up at Coumayeur, perhaps for a few days, and made a series of sketches both in pencil and watercolour at the head of the valley, around Courmayeur itself, and at Pre St Didier, slightly lower down the valley, where he no doubt took full advantage of the famous hot springs and bath house, in continuous use since at least Roman times.

St Didier Pavilion
The Historic Warm Baths at Pre St Didier
Photograph taken by David Hill, June 1999

In 1836 the Ponte de la Villette was a distinctive wooden construction and it appears in several pencil sketches that Turner made in the sketchbook that he carried with him, the ‘Val d’Aosta sketchbook’, now part of the Turner Bequest at the Tate Gallery, London (TB CCXCIII).

Courmayeur 1836 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J M W Turner
From above Courmayeur, Looking down the Val d’Aosta towards Dolonne, 1836
A page from the ‘Val d’Aosta sketchbook’
Graphite on paper, 113 x 190 mm
Tate Britain, London
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856, D29077 Turner Bequest CCXCIII 23 a
Image courtesy Tate. To see this in Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following line, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-from-above-courmayeur-looking-down-the-val-daosta-towards-dolonne-d29077

None show exactly the same view. The bridge is most recognisable in f.23a, where it is seen at the bottom right, in a view taken from the left bank of the Dora Baltea, looking down the valley with the tower of Courmayeur church at the left edge. The sketch shows the Monte Colmet range in the distance with Mont Crammont to the right. Downstream of the Ponte de la Villette we can see the Pont de Dolonne, with the village of Dolonne on the higher ground to its right.

Sal. [Turner] (?Sallenches, or Salève) 1836 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J M W Turner
Two Sketches: Looking Down the Val d’Aosta to Courmayeur and Dolonne, and The Aiguille de Varens and Mont Blanc from Above Sallanches, 1836
A page from the ‘Val d’Aosta sketchbook’
Graphite on paper, 113 x 190 mm
Tate Britain, London
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856, D29104 Turner Bequest CCXCIII 37r
Image courtesy Tate. To see this in Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following line, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-two-sketches-looking-down-the-val-daosta-to-courmayeur-and-dolonne-and-the-aiguille-d29104
Turner recorded a similar view down the valley in f.37, but from a viewpoint slightly further downstream, with the Pont de Dolonne in the foreground and much the same material as the watercolour in the distance. Co-incidentally, given my previous article on the 1836 tour for Sublimesites.co, the sketch at the right edge of this sheet records a view of Sallanches.

Mountain Pass, with Town 1836 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J M W Turner
The Pont de la Villette near Courmayeur, Looking up the Val d’Aosta to the Mont Blanc Massif and the Dent del Gigante, 1836
A page from the ‘Val d’Aosta sketchbook’
Graphite on paper, 113 x 190 mm
Tate Britain, London
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856, D29105 Turner Bequest CCXCIII 37v
Image courtesy Tate. To see this in Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following line, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-the-pont-de-la-villette-near-courmayeur-looking-up-the-val-daosta-to-the-mont-blanc-d29105

Turning over the page to 37 verso, Turner recorded the view from the same spot, but looking in the opposite direction up the valley to the Mont Blanc range. The Ponte de La Villette appears in the foreground, lower right, and the viewpoint of the present watercolour at the top of the bank at the right hand edge.

tdb1897 SS
J.M.W.Turner
Courmayeur from La Saxe, looking down the Val d’Aosta, Italy, 1836
Graphite and watercolour on paper, 8 7/8 x 12 3/8, 226 x 314 mm
With Agnew’s, London, 1990, no 47 as ‘A View in the Val d’Aosta, 1836’
Image from Agnew’s, 1990

Besides the present watercolour, Turner also made a leisurely and tranquil watercolour sketch of the view looking down the valley. For this he found a viewpoint slightly further up the valley than any of the other sketches, looking downstream towards Courmayeur. The Ponte de la Villette is visible in the right centre distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

J.M.W.Turner
The Ponte de la Villette, above Courmayeur, looking down the Val d’Aosta, Italy, 1836
Graphite and watercolour on paper, 241 x 343 mm (9 ½ x 13 ½)
Private Collection, UK, as ‘An Alpine landscape with a village’

The present sketch, however, is anything but a straightforward representation of the topography. Turner used the pencil sketches to detail particularities but the watercolours for effects and ideas. The most remarkable effect here is the torrent falling down the ravine above the bridge and overwhelming the river below. This is an apparently catastrophic event occurring in an otherwise untroubled landscape, and, devastatingly, appears to have completely erased Courmayeur in its passage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
J.M.W.Turner
The Ponte de la Villette, above Courmayeur, looking down the Val d’Aosta, Italy, 1836
Detail

Such events are not uncommon in the Val d’Aosta. I myself escaped the valley only a few hours before the cataclysmic flood of 13-16 October 2000 cut off most of the main routes of access. There were inundations and landslips everywhere, several lives lost, and ruinous damage to property, industry and agriculture. As I write this in 2018, not far from the spot depicted in Turner’s watercolour, the Montagne de la Saxe threatens to release anything up to 6 million cubic meters of rock and earth into the valley below, not least threatening the village of Entrèves and the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Entreves landslip 2014
Report of landslip near Courmayeur, 2014
http://www.ansa.it/english/news/general_news/2014/04/22/courmayeur-landslide-continues_3cf866a9-445b-4cd0-845a-75f7bb29993e.html

Turner had passed ongoing scenes of avalanche, glacier and rockfall on his way across the flanks of Mont Blanc to Courmayeur. When I walked the route from Chamonix in 1999 there was evidence of a recent avalanche at Les Chapieux that had passed with such focused power that it had taken half a building away in splinters, whilst leaving the remainder almost untouched.

Le Chapieux 1999
Chalet at Le Chapieux, following the avalanche of May 1999
Photograph by David Hill, June 1999

In 1836 Turner would probably have heard the story of the massive rockfall at Triolet in the Val Ferret not far from Courmayeur which during the night of 12-13 September 1717 had wiped out whole villages and killed the inhabitants and their cattle. So as Turner sketched at the Pont de la Villette in 1836 his mind would have been racing with stories and memories of tsunamis of rock and ice. The whole point of this sketch appears to have been to project these thoughts onto the landscape. Although there are the regular talus slopes found all over the Alps, there is no especial evidence of such an event actually occurring at this very spot, still less before Turner’s very eyes.

The ideas had taken root in Turner’s imagination and the following year he exhibited one of his most apocalyptic compositions under the title ‘Snow-storm, Avalanche and Inundation – a Scene in the Upper Part of Val d’Aouste’.

Valley_of_Aosta,_Snowstorm,_Avalanche,_and_Thunderstorm,_1836-1837,_by_Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Art_Institute_of_Chicago_-_DSC09550
J.M.W.Turner
‘Snow-storm, Avalanche and Inundation – a Scene in the Upper Part of Val d’Aouste’, exh RA 1837
Oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 48 ins, 922 x 1230 mm
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA, Frederick T Haskell collection 1947.513.
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Valley_of_Aosta%2C_Snowstorm%2C_Avalanche%2C_and_Thunderstorm%2C_1836-1837%2C_by_Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Art_Institute_of_Chicago_-_DSC09550.JPG

The picture is now at the Art Institute of Chicago, but oddly, of Turner’s truly outstanding achievements, it remains one of the least frequently loaned or discussed. Perhaps in part this is because its specific grounding and occasion has remained unknown. Butlin and Joll (The Paintings of J M W Turner, 2nd edition, 1984, no.371), say that ‘Turner painted a number of watercolours of the subject, two of which are in the National Gallery of Scotland, and a third in the Fitzwilliam Museum.’ The account continues: ‘Their relationship to the oil however is not close enough for them to be considered sketches for it.’

All of these are 1836 sketches, but are of quite unrelated Val d’Aosta subjects, and not at all comparable in terms of composition. Perhaps it seemed that the composition had sprung too much from the wilder recesses of the artist’s imagination, so any proper contextualisation of the painting stalled in limbo. Here, however, we can see that the exact composition of the painting is rehearsed in the present sketch, together with the precise idea of some grand debouchement.

The painting was bought by Turner’s travelling companion, H A J Munro of Novar, and when in 1878 his collection was sold by Christie’s the catalogue stated: ‘When the sketch was made for this picture Mr Munro was with Turner, who expressed a hope to him that he (Munro) did not know what he proposed to paint, for if so, he should feel himself obliged to abandon the subject’. Now that the sketch in question can be positively identified, an important window opens up into the working of Turner’s imagination in the very act of sketching.

1878 sale Avalanche
Christie’s sale catalogue of H A J Munro collection, 6 April 1878

Turner no doubt witnessed torrential thunderstorms in the Val d’Aosta. On one of my photographic visits ahead of the 2000 exhibition I remember the clouds gathering at the head of the valley, and by the time I parked up in the square at Courmayeur the air was chocolate brown in colour. It was like being submerged in a gigantic café latte. There is a Turner sketch showing what appears to be exactly this phenomenon amongst the work made at Courmayeur in 1836.

From the Church Terrace at Courmayeur, looking to Mont-Blanc 1836 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
J M W Turner
From the Church Terrace at Courmayeur, looking to Mont-Blanc, 1836
Watercolour, 245 x 306 mm
Tate Britain, London, D35891, Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 51
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
To see this image in Tate’s own website, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-from-the-church-terrace-at-courmayeur-looking-to-mont-blanc-d35891

When the rain came it fell in torrents. I doubt that mine was anything but a run-of the-mill thunderstorm, but trapped inside a Fiat Punto, one could easily imagine floating off on the stream flowing across the tarmac, along with the coffee-cups, rubbish bags, leaves and occasionally a reasonable branch into the weltering gloom. After about an hour it brightened and the carpark was a shallow lake, and the tributary streets slewed with stones and gravel.

Avalanche detail #1
J.M.W.Turner
‘Snow-storm, Avalanche and Inundation – a Scene in the Upper Part of Val d’Aouste’, exh RA 1837
Detail, lower right

In Snowstorm, Avalanche and Inundation, Turner imagined what it must be like to be in a properly serious event. In the foreground of the picture a group of woman struggle to save a chest of belongings from being swept away. It must have felt something like this to those trapped in the valley during the inundation of 2000. The storm continued for days, and at its height over 60cms (two whole feet!) of water fell in a 48 hour period. Eighteen were killed in the Val d’Aosta alone, and overall 40,000 had to be evacuated and 3000 were rendered homeless.

Reports and images of the Val d’Aosta flood, 2000:

As was frequently the case in Turner’s later career, the critics gleefully ravelled themselves up in their own conceits. Butlin and Joll cite a wide range of references: One asked ‘Has any accident befallen Mr Turner’s eyes?’. Another described it as an ‘ebullition of cotton, which Mr Turner was pleased to call an avalanche’. Yet another said ‘he has loaded his weapon of offence with such pigments as Quakers love, and shot a round of drab, dove-colour, and dirty white, with only a patch of hot, southern-red, in the foreground, to heighten, as it were, the horrors of a snow scene by a few probable touches of fire and sunshine. To speak of these works as pictures, would be an abuse of language.’

Avalanche detail #2
J.M.W.Turner
‘Snow-storm, Avalanche and Inundation – a Scene in the Upper Part of Val d’Aouste’, exh RA 1837
Detail centre left

Inevitably perhaps, the critic hoists himself with his own petard. Turner wasn’t making ‘pictures’ in the sense that would have gratified the usual promenaders at the annual exhibitions. To speak of such things as were intimated to Turner by the Alps in 1836 required the abuse of such expectations and of the language by which they were customarily served.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Turner at Brunnen, Lake Lucerne

2018 brings an especially Sublime sighting. On 30 January, Christie’s, New York offers a superb late Turner watercolour of ‘The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer’. This is being sold by a private American collector, and was last seen in Britain when it was sold by Christie’s in London in 1976. The sale catalogue has an extended essay by Ian Warrell (follow link in caption below) but there still seems to be even more to consider with regard to Turner’s approach to the subject, particularly in respect of his treatment of the topography.

tdb1626 SS
J.M.W.Turner
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1841
Watercolour with slight traces of pencil, on white, wove paper, watermarked ‘C. Ansell 1828’
9 ¾ x 12 1/8 in. (24.8 x 30.8 cm)
Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2018, lot 84, estimate: $800,000 – $1,200,000
Photo courtesy of Christie’s
To see this sketch on Christie’s online catalogue click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ra-london-1775-1851-6125498-details.aspx

The watercolour is a product of Turner’s sketching tour to Switzerland in the summer of 1841. He was sixty-five in 1840, and his appetite for the sublimities of the world became more urgent. In 1841 he embarked upon the first of four successive expeditions to the Alps, and the period of greatest intensity and brilliance in his sketching. Following the first tour he hit upon the idea of gathering a number of sketches together in a series and asking the collector and dealer Thomas Griffith to secure commissions for finished watercolours based on the sample sketches. For more extended reading on the topic area see further references at the end of this article.

The present watercolour is one of perhaps twenty sketches that Turner showed through Griffith. Ian Warrell made a collation of these in his exhibition catalogue ‘Through Switzerland with Turner’, Tate, 1995, pp. 149-50. In that list the present watercolour is no.7. One distinguishing characteristic of the late sample sketches is that they are generally numbered in red chalk on the back. It can now be noted that the present watercolour is numbered ‘18’ at the bottom right corner. The significance of the number is not altogether clear. Presumably it relates to a lost list of subjects, but the number of subjects expanded with further groups in subsequent years, and the highest number in the series appears to be ‘46’ on a sketch of ‘Lucerne by Moonlight: Sample Study’ (Turner Bequest, TB CCCLXIV 324, Tate D.36182).

tdb1626 verso SS
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1841
Detail of verso, bottom right-hand corner (contrast exaggerated).
The late sample sketches often have a number in red chalk on the back. This number ‘18’ has just been noticed.
It is not clear what might be the significance of the pencil number ‘0294’. ?Perhaps a collection or exhibition number.
Photograph courtesy of Christie’s

Turner remarked in a letter quoted by Warrell 1995 p.149 that he wanted to keep the sketches in their ‘primitive state’. In the event the dealer could find buyers for only nine finished watercolours, and for less than Turner thought they should fetch. The artist seems to have been quite knocked back by how tepid and limp was the response. One might say with good reason. The watercolours that he did make, including that based on the present study, ‘Lake of Lucerne from above Brunnen’ (Private Collection) are now almost universally counted among his very greatest achievements.

tdb1625
J.M.W.Turner
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1842
Watercolour on white, wove paper, 302 x 464 mm
Private Collection, UK
Photo courtesy of Agnew’s

The first series of sample sketches were mostly subjects visited in the summer of 1841. The itineraries of Turner’s Alpine tours in the 1840s still remain to be properly established, but it is clear that in this year the main focus of his attention was the Lake of Lucerne area. I hope to treat this topic more comprehensively should opportunity permit, but for now let us concentrate on the immediate subject.

Brunnen Boat 1991 SS
Steamer at Brunnen
Photograph by Professor David Hill, June 1990

I last visited Brunnen in 1990 when writing ‘Turner in the Alps’. Unfortunately the mountains were wreathed in cloud. When the old steamer came in from Fluelen the effect was Turnerian enough, but for the purposes of illustrating the mountain forms, not ideal. I hope to be able to manage a few days there this coming spring. Back in 1990, it is still more salutary to reflect, my computer had a green screen and the world wide web was still a prototype at CERN. Today, almost top of the list of a Google search for images of Brunnen one may find this stunner:

Switzerland mobility image
Lake Lucerne at Brunnen
Photo courtesy of http://www.Switzerland Mobility
To see this image in Switzerland Mobility’s own website, click on the following link, then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.schweizmobil.ch/en/hiking-in-switzerland/services/places/ort-0475.html

The small village of Brunnen – at that time still largely undeveloped and with only one decent hotel – seems to have occupied Turner as much as any other locality in 1841. This is perhaps not surprising, for it is situated on a sharp bend in the southern part of the lake, commanding the most spectacular view on the whole lake – the Bay of Uri to the south, which itself is part of a panorama that also encompasses a long stretch of the lake between mountains to the west. The bend on the lake is marked by the distinctive peak of the NiederbauenKulm, and as if this were not enough Brunnen also offers a view inland to the twin peaks of the Mythens above the village of Schwytz.

Brunnen gelaufen-hotel-goldener-adler-brunnen
Old Postcard of the Quay at Brunnen with the hotel Goldener Adler in the right foreground.
Image courtesy of: http://www.ak-ansichtskarten.de/shop/ak/66/6671581/AK-Brunnen-Hotel-du-Lac-Hirschen-Goldener-Adler.jpg

The views of the lake were commanded from the lake-facing rooms of the inn, the Goldener Adler, right by the boat landing, and from 1838 there was a brand-new daily steamer service that connected Fluelen at the southern point of the lake, with Lucerne at the north. We have seen in a previous article how during the same tour of 1841 Turner settled himself in a lake-front hotel at Lucerne to study the effects of light on the lake on Mont Rigi, and it seems that he did much the same at Brunnen. The Goldener Adler (described as ‘best, not very good’ by Murray’s Guide to Switzerland in 1838) burned down in 1846 and was rebuilt on a grander scale, and this business continued right down to 1948, when alterations were made and it was renamed ‘The Elite’. More rebuilding followed in 1982 and in 2004 the complex was converted to apartments. The prime site, however is readily recognisable on the left corner where the Bahnhofstrasse reaches the lake and turns onto the quay. The ground floor still caters for visitors via the Restaurant Elite.

Brunnen Goldener Adler GE
Google Earth image of lakefront at Brunnen, with the site of the Goldener Adler Hotel.

Brunnen site of hotel GE
Google Earth image of the Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, looking over the site of the Goldener Adler.

Ian Warrell’s essay in the 2018 Christie’s sale catalogue explores the context and subject-matter of the watercolour. He points out that the area is rich in historical associations. For example the slopes on the opposite shore enclose the field of Rutli where the first pact of Swiss confederacy was sworn in 1291, whilst on the left shore stands a small chapel which marks the spot where, not long after the oath was sworn, William Tell famously leapt ashore to escape from the tyrant Gessler. Warrell makes the nice suggestion that a tiny spot of dark blue watercolour under the cliffs to the far left marks the position of Tell’s Chapel. In the same spirit, it might be added that the plume of smoke from the steamer appears to lead the eye to the site of the Field of Rutli.

Brunnen Tells Chapel
J.M.W.Turner
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1841
Detail of left centre, where a touch of dark blue marks the position of Tell’s Chapel.

Brunnen steam detail
J.M.W.Turner
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1841
Detail of right centre, where the plume of steam leads the eye to the field of Rutli, where the oath of Swiss confederacy was sworn.

The principal subject of the composition is the southernmost arm of the Lake of Lucerne. This is known as the Bay of Uri and is by some measure the most majestic stretch of the whole lake. The water is bounded by sheer rocky precipices, overtowered by high mountains, and takes on pellucid hues, constantly modulating according to weather and time of day. Turner sketched this stretch of the lake many times. There is a major body of work based at the southernmost tip of the Bay of Uri looking north from Fluelen, but that must await a different occasion: For the time being it is sufficient occupation to acknowledge that, including the present watercolour, there are no fewer than eight watercolour studies of the Bay of Uri from Brunnen alone.

[Click on any image to enlarge, read caption, and scroll in gallery view]

The collection above excludes two works in the Turner Bequest that are currently identified with the Bay of Uri. The first is called ‘Lake of Lucerne: The Bay of Uri from Brunnen’ (TB CCCLXIV 356, Tate D36218) but which lacks the steepness of the relief that characterises this stretch of Lake Lucerne and must, I feel sure, be somewhere else. The second is called ‘Morning on the Lake of Lucerne: Uri from Brunnen’ (TB CCCLXIV 313, Tate D36171) which has the right character, but which includes in the centre indications of a ?church and trees on the opposite shore, and must therefore I think be considered uncertain. Detailed consideration of the wider framework must await a fresh visit to the site, but for now it is worth considering the specific topography of the present work. In the Christie’s 2018 catalogue essay Ian Warrell identifies two watercolour sketches in the Turner Bequest as the basis of the present work.

‘The scene is presented in much the same way on two sheets of a roll sketchbook (the soft backed notebooks Turner favored on his later travels), but in both of those the color has been added quite sparingly over pencil outlines that were presumably made on the spot (Tate; inv. TB CCCXXXII 32 and CCCLXIV 387; the second of these includes the steamboat). Lake Lucerne from Brunnen skilfully combines the information in those sketches, tweaking the visual information to best effect, enhancing the impression of height which lengthens the reflections, though the compression of some landscape features distorts what is found in reality.’

The first of these two sketches has hitherto been identified as ‘Morning on the Lake of Lucerne’ and Warrell is obviously right to identify it more specifically as the Bay of Uri from Brunnen. His idea that the sketches were made from nature also seems plainly right. It is a curious fact that there are no pencil-only sketches that may be associated with Brunnen in the 1840s, but these two sheets have rapid on-the-spot pencil work, overlaid with sparing watercolour washes. Warrell’s idea that the two sketches were synthesised in the present composition also seems persuasive, especially given that such a synthesis would account for the left and right halves of the foreground appearing in the same composition. It might be further observed that whilst Christie’s 2018 describes the medium of the present watercolour as ‘pencil and watercolor with scratching out’, any pencil work in fact is all but invisible, and it appears to have been approached directly in watercolour. Warrell’s clear implication is that the two Turner Bequest works are sketches made on the tour of 1841, and the present watercolour a synthesis of that material made in the studio.

It may be, however, that Turner’s development of the topography remains problematic. Even before I have the opportunity to evaluate all this carefully on site, it appears that the two studies do not quite supply the material found in the present watercolour.

GE Brunnen from landing stage
Google Earth image of Lake of Uri from the Landing Stage at Brunnen.

The most obvious issue is that neither sketch provides the dramatic treatment of the left shore that appears in the present watercolour. The second is that neither offers anything like the same treatment of the mountain profiles. In fact, it is clear that whilst Turner is working with pretty much the same material – and both might have been made from a room in Goldener Adler – his emphases are quite different. In the first the left slopes are magnified in his attention, whilst in the second the cliffs of Rutli and the overimpending peak of the Niederbauenkulm (1923m) loom disproportionately large. In both sketches the snowy saddleback of the Uri-Rostock (2928m) which dominates the attention of most ordinary viewers, is dispatched with a few summary lines and no real hint of its greater height.

The second sketch does, however, move closer to the present watercolour, in that it places the Niederbauenkulm at the centre of the composition. It differs in that it gives dominant proportion to that peak, whereas here it forms part of a more continuous mountain panorama. Overall the treatment of space here seems astonishingly counter-photographic. It is, however, typical of a frequently synthetic approach that Turner adopted in his sketches from the mid-1830s onwards, even when working on the spot. I first realised to what extent when working on his 1836 sketches of Val d’Aosta subjects ‘Turner, Mont Blanc and the Val d’Aosta’ (2000).

From that point on (if not before) he seems to have felt completely unconstrained by conventional optical intervals, even when looking directly at his subjects. As anyone who photographs landscape will know, living perception of place is a dynamic, embodied process. The mind is concerned with the personality of things, with significant relations, with dynamic properties and associations and above all with how it feels to be there. The main point of looking out on the Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen is the fact that one looks down the southern arm of the lake to the left and the western arm to the right and that the lake pivots around the peak of the Niederbauenkulm.

When Turner toured the Alps in the 1840s, his principal source of information would have been Murray’s Guide to Switzerland published in 1838. In its account of Brunnen, the breadth of the view is the first feature to be mentioned: ‘.. the village of Brunnen – (Inn: Goldener Adler; best, not very good) – to ports of the Canton Schwytz, built at the mouth of the river Muota. Its position with reference to the surrounding scenery is one of the most fortunate on the lake, commanding a view along two of its finest reaches.’

The trend of the two sketches cited by Warrell is towards a treatment of the whole sweep, and it seems worth considering another pair of sketches that appear to embrace the same dynamic. The first (Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 354) is the only one of the studies that treats the left shore in the same way as the present watercolour, and the second (Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 385) is the only sketch that swings fully round to the right to open up the western arm of the lake. The latter also treats the Niederbauenkulm in the same proportion as the present watercolour and brings in the line of hills stretching away to the right.

It may be that the present work is not so much a synthesis of on-the-spot sketches as a culmination, and it may belong (my familiar refrain, I confess) to the place as much as any of the other sketches. He did, after all, describe the sketches collectively as being in their ‘primitive state’. The present example, though more elaborate than some of the others, is painted in a limited range of colours; two blues, an ochre and an indian red, and is no more elaborate than numerous other late watercolour sketches that originate from sketchbooks. There is nothing in it that could not have been painted in a hotel room. Furthermore, the effect of light is quite specific, setting the time of day as early morning with the light slanting in from the left, grey upon the hills, dark upon the distant lake, and independent of any of the other sketches made at the site.

tdb1626 SS
J.M.W.Turner
The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, with a Steamer, 1841
Watercolour with slight traces of pencil, on white, wove paper, watermarked ‘C. Ansell 1828’
9 ¾ x 12 1/8 in. (24.8 x 30.8 cm)
Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2018, lot 84, estimate: $800,000 – $1,200,000
Photo courtesy of Christie’s
To see this sketch on Christie’s online catalogue click on the link below, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ra-london-1775-1851-6125498-details.aspx

‘Primitive state’ was a core concept for Turner. His artistic power derives, I would argue, from the constant tension in his work between analysis and synthesis, observation and imagination, and is completely reliant on the dialectic between them. Pictures such as this are certainly acts of imaginative power, but that imagination only has any meaning insofar and because of the fact that it is grounded in being in the world.

There can, however, be little doubt that the composition is synthetic. The foreground is entirely notional, there never was anything but a continuous shore front stretching as far as the mouth of the river Muota which is some way to the west (right) of the town. The treatment of the left shore is an abstraction of what Turner knows to be the case – the shore is precipitous in many places, but nowhere does it cut such a dramatically overhanging profile as is here suggested. The treatment of the Uri-Rostock is much diminished (as it is in all but one or two of the other sketches) and the mountains to the right are greatly exaggerated if not entirely invented. Yet the effect is wonderfully fresh and naturalistic. The style is certainly that of a sketch; so it is not impossible that this was done on the spot but as a deliberate transcendence of optical naturalism, in order to allow a process of assimilation to take place. So founded in observation and being there, but synthetic of the concept formed through being there. He was well-practised doing that in his on the spot pencil sketches, so why not in watercolour?

The truth is that Turner approaches the place as an artist. His objective is to find something in the subject more than can ordinary sight, or indeed an ordinary artist. And increasingly throughout his career he was doing that in on the spot observations. So my proposal is, at the end, a little paradoxical. Even when sketching from nature he actively seeks to work beyond ordinary observation. When Turner observes a place it informs him of a reality that is more of that place than simple appearances can relate.

FURTHER READING:
Ian Warrell, ‘Turner’s Late Swiss Watercolours – and Oils’, in Exploring Late Turner, New York, 1999.

Ian Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, Tate, 1995

David Hill, Turner in the Alps, 1802, London, 1992

AFTERWORD
1976 was the year in which I took my first degree at the University of Leeds. The sale at Christie’s in which the Brunnen appeared – the last time it was seen in England – must have been one of the first in which I took an interest. That was also the year in which I decided that there was potentially a lifetime’s interest in Turner and began my doctorate at the Courtauld Institute in London. The promise of a lifetime’s interest has been more than amply delivered. Far more interest, it is salutary to reflect, than can be accommodated in merely one lifetime. This year gives me a shared perspective on Turner passing sixty-five, Seeing enough of Switzerland starts to seem quite a pressing matter.

Brunnen steam detail

J.M.W.Turner: Ehrenbreitstein from Neuendorf

This article offers a new identification for a watercolour exhibited in the recent ‘Turner et la Couleur’ exhibition at the Hotel de Caumont, Aix en Provence 4 May – 18 September 2016 and afterwards in ‘J M W Turner: Adventures in Colour’ at Turner Contemporary, Margate, 8 October 2016 – 8 January 2017. Its title at the exhibition was ‘River Scene: Moonight (formerly called Rolandseck)’. It was lent from a private collection and it is possibly the first time (at least in my experience) that it has been exhibited.

J.M.W.Turner The Castle of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine from Neuendorf, with the church of St Peter in the foreground: Dawn, c.1840-1 Watercolour on white paper, 230 x 285 mm Private Collection. Exhibited Aix en Provence ‘Turner et la Couleur’ (no.105) and Turner Contemporary, Margate, ‘JMW Turner: Adventures in Colour’ as ‘River Scene: Moonlight’, the subject can here be reidentified. Image scanned from catalogue ‘Turner et la Couleur’, 2016, no.105, pending approval of the owner.
J.M.W.Turner
The Castle of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine from Neuendorf, with the church of St Peter in the foreground: Dawn, c.1840-1
Watercolour on white paper, 230 x 285 mm
Private Collection.
Exhibited Aix en Provence ‘Turner et la Couleur’ (no.105) and Turner Contemporary, Margate, ‘JMW Turner: Adventures in Colour’ as ‘River Scene: Moonlight’, the subject can here be reidentified.
Image scanned from catalogue ‘Turner et la Couleur’, 2016, no.105, pending approval of the owner.

The subject can here be identified as a view of The Castle of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine from Neuendorf, with the church of St Peter in the foreground. St Peter’s has been completely transformed since Turner’s time. The gothic-style hall that he saw was begun in 1723, but completely rebuilt on its north side in 1913, enlarging the floor area to three times the original size and adding a large neo-Baroque tower. Besides the redevelopment of the church, the riverbanks have been reclaimed and built upon, so that Turner’s exact viewpoint is now under houses. The wisdom of building on the waterline has been severely tested by floods over the years to the extent that major works took place on the shore recently to build flood defences.

Despite having lunch in a restaurant very close to the church on a cycle tour from Mainz to Bonn in 2006, I am disappointed to discover that I appear to have taken no photographs. All I can imagine that my companions diverted me from Turner duty with bonhomie, beers and fine German fare. Well perhaps in truth not so much of the bonhomie. Still, I would look forward to an opportunity to return one day. Luckily for our immediate purposes the construction company that built the flood defences have a very close comparison on their web report of the project.

Neuendorf, looking up the Rhine with St Peter’s Church in the foreground and Ehrenbreitstein Castle in the beyond. Turner’s church was comprehensively rebuilt in 1913, but the view of the castle is pretty much unchanged.  Photograph by courtesy of Björnsen Beratende Ingenieure of Koblenz. To see the image in the company’s website click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. The site is worth visiting for a full picture of the works undertaken. https://www.bjoernsen.de/index.php?id=hws_koblenz
Neuendorf, looking up the Rhine with St Peter’s Church in the foreground and Ehrenbreitstein Castle in the beyond. Turner’s church was comprehensively rebuilt in 1913, but the view of the castle is pretty much unchanged.
Photograph by courtesy of Björnsen Beratende Ingenieure of Koblenz. To see the image in the company’s website click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. The site is worth visiting for a full picture of the works undertaken.
https://www.bjoernsen.de/index.php?id=hws_koblenz

The photograph offers exactly the same profile of Ehrenbreitstein, though is taken from too low an angle for us to see more than a hint of the more distant profiles. In the watercolour, however, we can see beyond the church to the bridge of boats at Koblenz and the towers and spires of Koblenz’s churches to the right. Another photograph by Thomas Kovacs has been posted by the photographer to Panoramio. It is worth clicking on the link below (and then using your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this site) for apart from his being a rather beautiful picture, it shows the church of Neuendorf in telephoto relation to the spires and towers of Koblenz:
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/91522597?source=wapi&referrer=kh.google.com#

My identification of the watercolour is in fact more of a re-identification. In 1902 Sir Walter Armstrong produced the first comprehensive list of Turner’s watercolours including one, on p.252 given as “Ehrenbreitstein” 1835-40. [J P Heseltine, Esq.] 8 1/2 x 11. Church on low promontory of river, across which rises the Castle bluff. Late blue sketch on white paper’. This is otherwise unaccounted for today, but was listed by Andrew Wilton in his 1979 catalogue of the Turner’s watercolours as no.1320 ‘(?) Ehrenbreitstein c.1840. Watercolour 229 x 280 (sight). Prov: J P Heseltine; Sotheby 28 June 1944, bt Willoughby; Sir Thomas Barlow. Coll; untraced [not reproduced].’ According to Ian Warrell in the Aix en Provence catalogue (no.105) the watercolour had at some stage acquired the identification of Rolandseck, which is some way further down the Rhine, but this was discounted by Warrell in favour of the generic ‘River Scene: Moonlight’.

Given my avowed interest in Turner’s observations from nature, the effect and time of day is perhaps worth a little consideration. The view looks almost due south and although conditions are blue and bosky, the landscape is suffused with misty light. The church is lamp black in the foreground before the ultramarine bluff of Ehrenbreitstein. The castle is contre-jour against a distinct lightening of the sky from the distant left. The source catches the high cirrus brightly in mackerel flecks and bars, whilst warming the right hand side of the picture. Rather than moonlight (and regular readers will know that I am generally keen to prove a moonlight!) this seems to me much more the effect of dawn. The lamp black foreground splendidly transmitting the still chilled riverside, in the deep shade of the eastern bank of the river, before any of the coming light has yet touched it. In the right foreground already on river boatman is abroad, another lucky witness to the brilliance of the early hour.

Ehrenbreitstein and Coblenz (in Three Instalments) 1833 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D29676
Ehrenbreitstein and Coblenz (in Three Instalments) 1833 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D29676

There are some sketches in the Turner Bequest that record Ehrenbreitstein from a similar angle, but only one of the identified subjects comes at all close to the present subject. This is a three-part sketch of Ehrenbreitstein looking up the Rhine, with the castle in the top (left) register, the towers of Koblenz to the right in the second register, and the apse of St Peter’s church, Neuendorf closing the scene in the third (extreme right) register. The present watercolour revisits almost the exact viewpoint of the sketch, but belongs to a visit in the early 1840s, when Turner passed through Koblenz on several occasions, whilst journeying up or down the Rhine by steamboat on his way to Switzerland and the Alps during successive tours 1840-44.

Click on any image to open in slideshow, and to see captions:

Earlier articles on SublimeSites.co have considered his work at Heidelberg in this period, but the present subject seems to stand as a foil to a study of the Mosel Bridge, Koblenz, with Ehrenbreitstein beyond, Sunset (Tate CCCLXIV 286; D36139) which in turn formed the basis of a finished watercolour of 1842 at Cincinnati Art Museum. The latter was thought by many to be a copy of a lost Turner, and reproduced as such by Ian Warrell in ‘Through Switzerland with Turner’ (Tate, 1995, p.43). I was lucky to see the watercolour on a trip to Cincinnati in 2001, and was straight away convinced that it could only be by Turner. I was not the first to think so. Eric Shanes had left a note in the Museum files to that effect. I wrote a long note to Cincinnati making the case for its authenticity, and rather disappointingly never even received so much as an acknowledgement. So shortly afterwards I sent the material to Andrew Wilton and he included it in his exhibition ‘Turner, Licht und Farbe’, no.178, with a note accepting it as the original.

Images best viewed full-size. Click on image to enlarge:

Google Earth Aerial View of Neuendorf, Ehrenbreitstein and Koblenz, showing Turner’s viewpoints
Google Earth Aerial View of Neuendorf, Ehrenbreitstein and Koblenz, showing Turner’s viewpoints

Google Earth rendering of sunrise across the Rhine from Neuendorf, 5.45 am, 27 September, about the same time that Turner was there in 1840
Google Earth rendering of sunrise across the Rhine from Neuendorf, 5.45 am, 27 September, about the same time that Turner was there in 1840

To return to the present example, it seems plain that on his tours of the 1840s (and earlier, as I have contended elsewhere) Turner devoted himself to recording hundreds of extremely particular effects directly in watercolour. Quite what the occasion of the present subject could have been, however, requires a little speculation. Turner passed through Koblenz on most of his visits to the Alps in the 1840s, but stylistic features – particularly the handling of the sky – compare closely with the Mosel Bridge sketch and watercolour suggesting a date of date of 1840 or 1841.

Turner would have stayed in Koblenz and Neuendorf is no more than a decent walk away from the city centre, but it seems unlikely that even he would have got up before dawn to walk out here on the off chance that the effect might have been worth seeing. We know that Turner passed through Koblenz on his way home from Venice in late September 1840. In the present composition we are looking due south and on 27 September (for example) the sun first broaches the horizon slightly behind us to the left at 05.45 GMT, and in the watercolour it does appear as if the first rays are catching the boatman at the bottom right corner of the composition. So what might have been the precise circumstances of the watercolour? The steamboat for Cologne and all stops downstream on his way back to London would presumably have left Koblenz at first light, so here is Turner, just embarked, out on deck to witness the sun coming up as his boat slips away downstream. Under such circumstances he might easily have begun the watercolour direct from nature, and had the time, leisure and circumstances in which to carry it to a reasonable degree of elaboration as the journey unfolded.

tdb1434-detail-boatman

Update: Turner and Sisteron

One of the Turner highlights of 2016 was Ian Warrell’s splendid exhibition of ‘Turner et la Couleur’ which showed at the Hotel de Caumont, Centre d’Art at Aix en Provence 4 May to 18 September, and then as J M W Turner: Adventures in Colour’  [and STILL, FOR ONE MORE WEEK ONLY] at Turner Contemporary, Margate, 8 October – 8 January 2017].

Sisteron sunset shadow 2
19.47

The exhibition included one item of particular interest to me. My first post on 5 November 2013 was ‘Moonlight and its implications: Turner at Sisteron’ and I followed up on that on 20 April 2014 with an article entitled ‘Turner at Sisteron: Further Observations’. One of my principal interests in these articles was a watercolour in a private collection of ‘Sisteron from the North West’ that featured a rather remarkable, and very specific effect of the castle casting its shadow on the Rocher de la Baume. At that time there was no colour reproduction of the watercolour available, so I had to be content with a scan of an old black and white image. So it was a particular pleasure to see it included in the selection for the exhibition and reproduced at high quality in the catalogue for the exhibition (no.90 in the French edition).

tdb1967
J.M.W Turner, Sisteron from the North West c.1838 Watercolour, 133 x 190 mm Private Collection Image courtesy of Ian Warrell and by permission of the owner. The original watercolour was exhibited in ‘Turner et la Couleur’ Aix en Provence, 2016 and ‘J M W Turner: Adventures in Colour’, Turner Contemporary, Margate, 2016-7.

A few days ago, Ian Warrell very kindly sent me a digital image of the watercolour, with the owner’s permission to publish it on Submimesites.co. I am grateful to him, and to the anonymous owner, and have now updated the original article to feature the new image. It is remarkable that the shadow is even more dramatically apparent in the colour reproduction that it was in black and white.

Update: Turner and Heidelberg – a newly identified source for the Tate painting

Since completing part #6 of the SublimeSites.co series on Turner and Heidelberg, I have discovered a potential literary source for the subject of the Tate oil painting.

J M W Turner A Castle in an Alpine Valley, called ‘Heidelberg’, c.1842 Oil on canvas, 52 × 79 ½ ins (132 × 201 cms) Tate, London, N00518 Photograph by David Hill, courtesy of Tate In what follows, I question the long-established identification of the painting as ‘Heidelberg’, (sometimes ‘Heidelberg in the Olden Time’) and propose an earlier date than the current consensus of 1844-5. To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-heidelberg-n00518
J M W Turner
A Castle in an Alpine Valley, called ‘Heidelberg’, c.1842
Oil on canvas, 52 × 79 ½ ins (132 × 201 cms)
Tate, London, N00518
Photograph by David Hill, courtesy of Tate
In what follows, I question the long-established identification of the painting as ‘Heidelberg’, (sometimes ‘Heidelberg in the Olden Time’) and propose an earlier date than the current consensus of 1844-5.
To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page.
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-heidelberg-n00518

 J M W Turner Ruined Castle, with Mountains, 1841?c Pencil with slight touches of watercolour on paper, 227 x 325 mm A page from the ‘Mountain Fortress’ sketchbook’, Tate D33664.Turner Bequest CCCXXXIX 11 Tate Britain, London Self-evidently related to the painting called ‘Heidelberg’. But of somewhere else altogether. Photo courtesy of Tate. To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-ruined-castle-with-mountains-d33664
J M W Turner
Ruined Castle, with Mountains, 1841?c
Pencil with slight touches of watercolour on paper, 227 x 325 mm
A page from the ‘Mountain Fortress’ sketchbook’, Tate D33664.Turner Bequest CCCXXXIX 11
Tate Britain, London
Self-evidently related to the painting called ‘Heidelberg’. But of somewhere else altogether.
Photo courtesy of Tate. To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page.
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-ruined-castle-with-mountains-d33664

In part #6, I suggested that the composition of the painting was based on a sketch in the ‘Mountain Fortress’ sketchbook in the Turner Bequest at the Tate (TB CCCXXXIX). I am still puzzling over what the subject of the sketches might be – there are several of the same castle(s) in that sketchbook – but I did notice that the sketchbook contains the draft of a passage of poetry that clearly contains the germ of the composition.

J M W Turner A draft composition of a passage of poetry, 1841? (detail #2) Pencil on paper, page size 227 x 325 mm A page from the ‘Mountain Fortress’ sketchbook’, Tate D40432.Turner Bequest CCCXXXIX 11 Tate Britain, London Photo courtesy of Tate. To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-title-not-known-d40432
J M W Turner
A draft composition of a passage of poetry, 1841? (detail #2)
Pencil on paper, page size 227 x 325 mm
A page from the ‘Mountain Fortress’ sketchbook’, Tate D40432.Turner Bequest CCCXXXIX 11
Tate Britain, London
Photo courtesy of Tate. To view this image in Tate’s own catalogue of the Turner bequest, click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page.
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-title-not-known-d40432

I have transcribed the passage and incorporated that into an updated version of Part #6.

[title not known] null by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Supported by the Pilkington Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation

Logo

https://www.google.co.uk/#q=pilkington+anglo-japanese+cultural+foundation

Turner and Scotland #1: Ben Arthur from near Ardgartan

Mist on Ben Arthur Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 14.54 GMT
Mist on Ben Arthur
Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 14.54 GMT

Not all my Turnering goes according to plan. This is an interim report on a new identification for a watercolour at the British Museum. Currently called ‘Mountain study, a view in north Wales (?)’ this can now be confirmed instead as a view of Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan. On a recent trip up to the far north-west,  I took a small detour off the Loch Lomond route to photograph Turner’s view. Being in the mountain valleys on this occasion, however, was rather like being in a large bucket with a wet carpet for a lid. Not the best conditions for photography, perhaps, but apt; for looking at Turner’s sketches conditions were not dissimilar when he was there in 1801. He persevered enough to at least see something of the mountain, and of necessity, for it was the best part of a week’s journey to get there directly. For me it is about four hours.

J M W Turner Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801 Watercolour, 247 x 418 mm British Museum, London, R.W.Lloyd Bequest, 1958-7-12-405 as ‘Mountain Study: a view in North Wales?’ Image courtesy of The British Museum. To see the image in the British Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=748939&partId=1&searchText=turner+welsh+mountain&page=1
J M W Turner
Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801
Watercolour, 247 x 418 mm
British Museum, London, R.W.Lloyd Bequest, 1958-7-12-405 as ‘Mountain Study: a view in North Wales?’
Image courtesy of The British Museum. To see the image in the British Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=748939&partId=1&searchText=turner+welsh+mountain&page=1

Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 15.15 GMT The lower shoulder of the mountain is all that can be seen. Conditions were wet when Turner visited the site in 1801, He may have had to persevere for some time in order to get a glimpse of the summit. I will just have to go back in more promising conditions.
Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan
Photograph by David Hill taken 4 April 2016, 15.15 GMT
The lower shoulder of the mountain is all that can be seen. Conditions were wet when Turner visited the site in 1801, He may have had to persevere for some time in order to get a glimpse of the summit. I will just have to go back in more promising conditions.

Google Earth Street View image of Ben Arthur from above Ardgartan Google Earth’s photograph is a very wide angle of view that visually diminishes the mountain. In fact the rocky summit seems very much more imposing, and the bulk of the mountain very much greater.
Google Earth Street View image of Ben Arthur from above Ardgartan
Google Earth’s photograph is a very wide angle of view that visually diminishes the mountain. In fact the rocky summit seems very much more imposing, and the bulk of the mountain very much greater.

J M W Turner Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801 Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03292-93, Turner Bequest TB LVII 8a-9 as ‘Looking up Glenkinglas from Cairndow’. Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708/19
J M W Turner
Ben Arthur from the entrance to Glen Croe above Ardgartan, 1801
Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03292-93, Turner Bequest TB LVII 8a-9 as ‘Looking up Glenkinglas from Cairndow’.
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708/19

The British Museum watercolour has long been thought to record a scene in North Wales and before that the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District. Kim Sloan gives a resume of the various suggestions in her catalogue of J.M.W.Turner Watercolours from the R.W.Lloyd Bequest published by the British Museum in 1998 (no.8). I noticed at the time when thinking about reviewing the book that the watercolour was based on a sketch of 1801 in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook in the Turner Bequest at the Tate (TB LVII 8a-9). This certainly made it a Scottish subject, and the mountain profile reminded me of the distinctive shape of Ben Arthur, but it was only when thinking about the subject again in 2013 and being able now to draw upon the amazing facility of Google Earth Street View, that I was able to pin down the exact viewpoint. This is a just a few hundred yards above Ardgartan, not far after the Inverary road turns away from Loch Long into Glen Croe, where a little side road on the left drops down to an old bridge across the Croe Water. The bridge can be clearly seen in both sketch and watercolour, and its successor survives, but there are far more trees in the valley than in Turner’s day, and it cannot be included in any clear view of the valley today. In my photograph it is hidden behind the public conveniences to the left.

Click on maps below to view full-size

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan. Showing Turner’s viewpoint and principal landmarks
Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan.
Showing Turner’s viewpoint and principal landmarks

Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan. Detail of Turner’s viewpoint and nearby parking.
Google Earth Aerial View of Loch Long and Ardgartan.
Detail of Turner’s viewpoint and nearby parking.

There is scope here only for some immediate contextualisation, though Turner’s tour of 1801 in its own right would undoubtedly merit a full-length book.

The sketch comes near the beginning of the itinerary recorded in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook. The existing identifications of individual sketches would yield to sustained re-examination I suspect, but the sequence of drawings begins at the southern end of Loch Lomond, follows the west shore as far as Tarbet, then crosses to Arrochar, round the head of Loch Long, and along the old military road from Ardgartan past Ben Arthur through Clen Croe and Glen Kinglas to Loch Fyne and Inverary, proceeding onwards north to Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe, Tyndrum, Loch Tay and Tummel Bridge before turning back south at Blair Atholl.

In the Autumn 2013 issue of Turner Society News (Vol.120, pp.4-7) Murdo Macdonald and Eric Shanes published an article in which they re-identified another supposedly Welsh subject as Scottish. The picture in this case was an oil painting at the Fitzwilliam Museum called ‘Welsh Mountain Landscape’ which they demonstrated is in fact a view of the promontory of Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond across the loch to the right. The identification stemmed from a re-identification of a related pencil drawing of the same subject. Their article has further significance in that they identify the oil as that exhibited by Turner at the Royal Academy in 1802 under the title of ‘Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros’.

The Loch Lomond subject, however has direct relevance to our immediate topic, for we may add to Macdonald and Shanes’s material the observation that the pencil drawing that they reproduce (one of a series of generally quite highly finished studio pencil drawings called the ‘Scottish Pencils’) has, like our Ardgartan subject, its antecedent in a pencil sketch in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook. A drawing just a few pages before that of Ardgartan records Turner’s first-hand observation of the view of Rubha More and Ben Lomond, which he then developed into the ‘Scottish Pencils’ drawing. So we may be sure that Turner began the Tummel Bridge sketchbook at the southern end of Loch Lomond, and then proceeded on the west shore road via Luss and Rubha Mor before reaching Tarbet and then crossing to Loch Long and Arrochar.

J.M.W.Turner  Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros. Exhibited Royal Academy, 1802 Oil on canvas 641 x 988 mm The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. To see the image in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?oid=3996
J.M.W.Turner
Ben Lomond Mountains, Scotland: The Traveller – Vide Ossian’s War of Caros. Exhibited Royal Academy, 1802
Oil on canvas 641 x 988 mm
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. To see the image in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?oid=3996

J M W Turner Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801 Chalk, Pencil and watercolour on paper, 297 x 429 mm. Tate, London, D03426., Turner Bequest TB LVIII 47 as ‘A Wooded Bay with Mountains Beyond, Perhaps Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’ Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-a-wooded-bay-with-mountains-beyond-perhaps-loch-lomond-at-inveruglas-d03426
J M W Turner
Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801
Chalk, Pencil and watercolour on paper, 297 x 429 mm.
Tate, London, D03426., Turner Bequest TB LVIII 47 as ‘A Wooded Bay with Mountains Beyond, Perhaps Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-a-wooded-bay-with-mountains-beyond-perhaps-loch-lomond-at-inveruglas-d03426

J M W Turner Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801 Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03284-85, Turner Bequest TB LVII 4a-5 as ‘A Small Boat Drawn Up in a Wooded Bay, with Mountains Beyond: ?Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’. Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708
J M W Turner
Rubha Mor on Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond in the distance, 1801
Pencil and sepia washes on paper, 149 x 218 mm (page size, 149 x 109 mm) from the ‘Tummel Bridge’ sketchbook, Tate, London, D03284-85, Turner Bequest TB LVII 4a-5 as ‘A Small Boat Drawn Up in a Wooded Bay, with Mountains Beyond: ?Loch Lomond at Inveruglas’.
Image courtesy of Tate. To see the image in the Tate’s own online catalogue, click on the following link, and then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708

So the two subjects are recorded in closely sequential sketches in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook, and are only a few miles apart and must have been sketched on the same or successive days. We can pinpoint Turner’s visit to Loch Lomond and Ardgartan quite precisely, for a note in another sketchbook used on the 1801 tour (Scotch Lakes sketchbook, TB LVI, inside end cover) records that he left Edinburgh on 18 July for a tour of the Highlands, and arrived at Gretna on his way south on 5 August. His route took him from Edinburgh directly via Linlithgow, Glasgow and Dumbarton to Loch Lomond. If we allow three or four days for that part of the journey he would have been at Loch Lomond and Ardgartan about the 21st or 22nd of July.

The 1980s were something of a golden age for topographical work on Turner. In 1982 Aberdeen Art Gallery organised an exhibition of Turner in Scotland. Today it might be possible to make two or three wonderful books out of the topic, but the catalogue published at the time contains some great work. One chapter that I am particularly fond of is by Tom Wigley and Nigel Huckstep of the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, in which they give ‘An account of weather conditions during Turner’s tour of Scotland in July-August 1801’. They paint a remarkably detailed day-to day picture. Conditions were generally cold and cloudy: ‘On 19-22 July a new low moved into the area, bringing a little relief from the cool weather [northerlies] and some reduction in cloud. Cloudy cool conditions returned as this low moved across to southern Scandinavia’. Afterwards there were a few brighter intervals, but generally the cool and cloudy conditions prevailed.

And that is exactly what we see in the sketches that Turner made at the time, and in the pictures that he developed from those observations.

CLICK ON ANY IMAGE BELOW TO OPEN FULL SIZE AND SEE CAPTIONS

The interested reader can follow Turner’s sequence of sketches in the Tummel Bridge sketchbook on the Tate’s own website by clicking on the following link:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sketchbook/tummel-bridge-sketchbook-65708.
It seems clear from my own brief engagement with the material here, that there is a huge reservoir of potential interest in the sketches at this close level of focus. It is a little surprising that the Tate’s revision of its catalogue of Turner’s sketches has not yet given the tour of 1801 any sustained consideration. It seems plain from the initial grounds for this essay, i.e.that the British Museum watercolour has been misidentified as a North Wales subject, that Turner’s tour of Scotland in that year has been overshadowed by his earlier work in Wales, and (mea culpa) by his first visit to the Alps in the following year. I hope to return to the topic sometime soon once I can find the time to visit Loch Lomond. It’s perhaps a faint hope that the opportunity will materialise for me to give the tour the full treatment that it deserves, but perhaps someone will be able to do it full justice one day.

A Mountain Ridge with Trees in the Foreground 1801 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851