• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2135

    Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture

    28 January 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 36

    Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. London 1775-1851

    A view in the Domleschg Valley, Switzerland

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. London 1775-1851
    A view in the Domleschg Valley, Switzerland
    pencil and watercolor with scratching out, the backing paper watermarked J. WHATMAN
    9 1/8 x 11 3/8 in. 23 x 28.7 cm.
    WOOD PRINCE COLLECTION


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    In the catalogue for the 1869 sale of Ruskin's Turner watercolors, this drawing was called 'An Alpine Stream', the name by which it has been known ever since. The precise location has never previously been identified, although scholars such as A.J. Finberg (op. cit., p. 20) have linked it to Turner's views of Bellinzona. This identification cannot be justified by comparison to other views of Bellinzona (such as Wilton 1489 and 1491), and the link probably derives from the proximity of this drawing in the Ruskin sale catalogue to a watercolor of 'Bellinzona. One of a grand series of sketches made by Turner for complete pictures, but never realized' (Wilton, op. cit., no. 1489, illustrated). The present watercolor was described as 'The Desolate Bed of an Alpine Stream, with mist rising/at sunset. Another sketch in the same series of the highest/quality'. Andrew Wilton listed the present watercolor, along with those of Bellinzona, as probably a product of Turner's Swiss Tour of 1843.

    Recently Ian Warrell has suggested that the location is in the Domleschg Valley, Switzerland (fig. 2), and will further discuss Turner's watercolors of this region in a future publication. The striking motif of an enormous cliff surmounted by fortifications can be found in other works by Turner that have been identified as views of the Domleschg, and which Peter Bower has listed in his essay as part of the recently-reconstructed 'Domleschg Valley' Sketchbook. Similar ruins appear in a watercolor at Oldham, also dating from 1843 (fig. 3). Traditionally called A Swiss Alpine Valley (Possibly St. Gothard), this location has been identified as the Domleschg Valley, looking north from the Hinterrhein near Sils-in-Domleschg, and it is suggested that the ruins are those of Alt-Sins. The viewpoint, however, is rather different: in the present watercolor Turner places the viewer almost in the shadow of the great rock, emphasizing the monumentality of the sheer cliff, rather than the surrounding mountains, which instead blend into mistiness in the background. The loose handling of watercolor in the present work may be compared to that in another drawing also now thought to form part of the 'Domleschg Valley' Sketchbook: the watercolor traditionally called Bellinzona (fig, 4; 1843; British Museum, London), which is now widely accepted as a view of the Domleschg Valley looking south towards Thusis and Hohenrätien. The present watercolor therefore looks north up the Hinterrhein, or Rain posteriur, from a point just north of Thusis and north-west of Sils-in-Domleschg. This suggests that the village which nestles under the cliff at the extreme right is Sils, while the prominent ruins at the left-hand edge of the cliff are those of the castle of Nieuwe-Sins. The towered building in the distance may be the Chateau Rietberg, which features prominently in the historical novel Jürg Jenatsch, by the distinguished Swiss author Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898). This drawing therefore captures the Hinterrhein in its final stages, prior to its confluence near Reichenau with the Vorderrhein, or Rain anteriur, and its continuation northward as the single Rhine.

    The present watercolor captivated A.J. Finberg, who in 1929 admired its 'entrancing play of colour and suggestion' and concluded a rapturous description of its appearance with the exclamation, 'What a beautiful dream it all is!' (Finberg, op. cit., p. 20). The continued fascination exerted by the drawing's light washes and ethereal quality led to its selection for inclusion in the Royal Academy's Exhibition of British Art in 1934. It was one of several drawings lent from the distinguished collection of Mrs Walter Jones, the widow of Walter H. Jones. Her other loans included the Red Rigi (no. 891), the Blue Rigi (no. 895), Venice, Mouth of the Grand Canal (no. 899) and Mainz and Castel (no. 904). When the drawing was sold with the rest of the Walter Jones Turners in 1942 (fig. 1), its enigmatic qualities encouraged a great deal of competition among bidders, and it eventually sold at more than three times its reserve of £100.

    The present drawing is on a Royal Quarto watercolor paper, made by Whatman, which has been worked on the wireside.

    We would like to thank Ian Warrell, Peter Bower and Cecilia Powell for their assistance in preparing this catalogue note.

    Provenance

    John Ruskin; Christie's, London, 15 April 1869, lot 36 (101 gns to Agnew's).
    with Agnew's, London, 1869.
    Henry Bruen.
    with Agnew's, London, 1913.
    with Agnew's, London, 1919.
    Walter H. Jones, and by descent to his widow, Mrs Walter H. Jones (+); Christie's, London, 3 July 1942, lot 50, as 'An Alpine Stream/A stream runs at low tide: a small towered building on hill beyond/Painted about 1838' (320 gns to The Fine Art Society).
    with The Fine Art Society, London, 1942.
    with Leggatt Brothers, London.
    with Agnew's, London, where purchased by the late owners on 3 May 1954, as 'An Alpine Stream'.


    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of William and Eleanor Wood Prince, Chicago, Illinois


    Literature

    Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London, 1902, p. 239.
    J. Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, eds. E.T. Cooke & A. Wedderburn, London, 1903-1912, XIII, pp. 471 & 571.
    A.J. Finberg, Early English Water-Colour Drawings by the Great Masters: Special Number of The Studio, 1919, p. 20.
    A.P. Oppé, Water-colours of Turner, Cox and De Wint, 1924, no. 92, p. 28, illustrated pl. XII.
    A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 481, no. 1512, illustrated as 'Alpine Stream'.


    Exhibited

    London, Agnew's, Exhibition of water-colour drawings by Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.: at Messrs Agnew Galleries, April - May 1913, no. 95, as 'An Alpine Stream'.
    London, Agnew's, Exhibition of selected water colour drawings by artists of the early English school: at Messrs. Thos. Agnew & Sons' Galleries, March 1919, no. 135, as 'Alpine Stream'.
    London, Agnew's, Water-colours of Turner, Cox and De Wint, 1924, no. 92, as 'An Alpine Stream'.
    London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of British art c. 1000-1860, 1934, no. 889, as 'An Alpine Stream', lent by Mrs Walter Jones, London.