Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)
MASTER DRAWINGS FROM THE MARTIN BODMER FOUNDATION
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)

View of a town in an Alpine landscape with a bridge across a lake

Details
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)
View of a town in an Alpine landscape with a bridge across a lake
watercolour, with scratching out
9½ x 12 in. (242 x 304 mm.)
Provenance
Anon. sale, Auctioneer A.G., Basel, January 1970, lot 55.

Lot Essay

Of Turner's late watercolours in the Turner Bequest, and of his Swiss studies in particular, Ruskin wrote 'They are all of the period in which Turner's work is full of the most characteristic excellences ... I look upon them as in some respects more valuable than his finished drawings, or his oil pictures, because they are the simple records of his first impressions and first purposes, and in most instances as true to the character of the places they represent as they are admirable in composition' (J. Ruskin, Catalogue of the Turner sketches in the National Gallery, London, 1857, preface; E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London, 1904, vol. XIII, pp. 189-90).

Turner first visited the Alps in 1802, when he travelled to the continent following the treaty of Amiens. He drew on the material he gathered on that trip over the next fifteen years, but did not actually return to Switzerland until 1836, a trip he made with his friend and patron H.A.J. Munro of Novar. The experience made a deep impression on Turner and he was drawn back there on four further occasions. In 1841 he completed a seven-week tour, returning on 22 October. He returned again in 1842 and in the two subsequent years.

Following these tours between 1841 and 1844, Turner made groups of rough watercolours or 'sample studies', that he worked up from his on-the-spot sketches: these were to suggest the appearance of the finished drawings to be developed from them. His agent Thomas Griffith then showed those studies to collectors in the hope that they would commission finished works. Four of the subjects had already been completed to indicate to customers how to interpret the samples. The colour studies of Swiss scenes which were not designed as 'samples' are often equally finished. Yet, as Andrew Wilton says, 'they are not composed as finishable designs; their function, in Turner's eyes, was essentially different', A. Wilton, The Life and Work of JMW Turner RA, London and Fribourg, 1979, p. 236. However, although this watercolor is the same size as a number of Turner's 'samples', such as Constance (TBCCCLXIV-288, Wilton, op. cit., 1531), it is considerably less finished and was almost certainly intended as a private work of the kind mainly to be found in the Turner Bequest.

The present watercolor has been traditionally identified as Coblenz, but this identification is no longer accepted. A view of the same location (A. Wilton, op. cit., no. 1510) was tentatively identified as Bellinzona with the bridge over the Ticino, which Turner visited on both his Swiss tours of 1842 and 1843. This suggestion has also been rejected. However, the size of the mountains and the wooden bridge certainly suggest a Swiss subject, which has yet to be identified.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for suggesting a date of 1842-43 and to Cecilia Powell for her assistance in attempting to identify the subject.
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