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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection

The Lungernsee by Moonlight, Switzerland

The Lungernsee by Moonlight, Switzerland
pencil and watercolor with some pen dipped in color, on wove paper watermarked 'JWhatman/ 1846'
15 1/4 x 22 1/4 in. (38.4 x 56.2 cm).
Executed circa 1848
Sophia Caroline Booth.
Lewin Barned Mozley; sale, Christie’s, London, 27 May 1865, lot 183 (titled A Mountain Lake in Switzerland; evening effect; to Vokins).
with Thomas Agnew and Sons, London.
John Heugh; sale, Christie's, London, 24 April 1874, lot 83 (titled Lake Nemi, to Agnew).
with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London.
John Knowles (acquired from the above); sale, Christie's, London, 19 May 1877, lot 92 (to Agnew).
with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London.
William Carver (acquired from the above).
Mrs. Williams.
C.W. Dyson Perrins.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 22 April 1959, lot 68.
Leggatt and Agnew (acquired at the above sale).
Mrs. C. W. Garnett (by 1967).
with Richard Green, London.
Guy and Myriam Ullens; sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 July 2007, lot 4.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
W. Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 268 (titled Lake Nemi and dated circa 1840 (Mrs Williams)).
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of JMW Turner, Zürich, 1979, p. 487, no. 1560 (titled Lake Nemi).
E. Joll, Turner, London, 1986, pp. 268-269, no. 111 (titled Lake Nemi and dated circa 1848-1850).
R. Upstone, Turner: The Final Years, London, 1993, p. 66, no. 68 (titled Lake Nemi).
I. Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, London, 1995, p. 155, Finished Watercolours of c.1845-51, no. 7 (titled possibly Lake Nemi).
E. Shanes, Turner the Great Watercolours, London, 2000, p. 237, no. 109 (titled A Swiss Lake and dated circa 1848).
A. Wilton, William Turner, Licht und Farbe, Ostfildern, 2002, pp. 243 and 360, no. 187 (titled A Swiss Lake: The Lungernsee and dated circa 1848).
J. Piggott, "Salerooms Report" in Turner Society News, no. 107, December 2007, p. 14.
E. Shanes, The Life and Masterworks of J.M.W. Turner, London, 2008, pp. 238-239 (titled The Lungerer See, Switzerland, and dated circa 1848).
D. Hill, "The Lungernsee and Brunig Pass" in Sublimesites online blog, 1 February 2014.
M. Krause, "Mrs Booth’s Turners" in British Art Journal, 2021, vol. XXII, no.1, p. 8.
London, Leggatt Brothers, Turner, 1960, no.13 (titled Lake Nemi).
London, Agnew's, 150th Anniversary Exhibition: Paintings and Watercolours by JMW Turner, RA, 1967, no. 78 (titled Lake Nemi).
Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, and Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Turner, 1986, no. 111 (titled Lake Nemi).
London, Tate Gallery, Turner: The Final Years, 1993, no. 68 (titled Lake Nemi).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Turner: The Great Watercolours, 2000, no. 109 (titled A Swiss Lake and dated circa 1848).
Kunsthaus Zürich, William Turner, Licht und Farbe, 2002, no. 187 (titled A Swiss Lake: The Lungernsee and dated circa 1848).
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Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

J.M.W. Turner created this magically ethereal view around 1848 as part of his very last batch of Swiss subjects. He was by then seventy-three, and no longer able to travel abroad, but his long-standing practice of setting down quick pencil sketches and watercolor impressions as he journeyed across Europe meant he was still able to summon up countless locations as vividly as if he was working on the spot.
Because the watercolor only came to light in the 1860s, over a decade after Turner’s death, and had not been exhibited in his lifetime, it had not acquired an official title. Curiously, however, while its connection with Switzerland was recognised when it first appeared at Christie’s in 1865, its subject thereafter was mistakenly thought to depict Lake Nemi, the volcanic crater to the south-east of Rome. It was only as recently as 2001 that Professor David Hill proposed the scene actually depicted the Lungernsee, one of the chain of small lakes the traveller encounters when ascending from Lucerne to the Brunig Pass before going down into the Bernese Oberland at Meiringen. (See Wilton 2001, and Professor Hill’s extended discussion of a related view of the Lungernsee at Hill 2014.)
One of Turner’s sketchbooks at Tate Britain charts his progress along this route, and includes a couple of views of the Lungernsee. The composition developed in the present watercolor was anticipated in a rudimentary sketch that compressed the panorama looking southwards down the lake, past the humped farmland at Bürglen on the right, and on to the enclosing slopes at Lungern, at the foot of the Brunig Pass, above which are the jagged peaks of the Wellhorn (Between Lucerne and Thun sketchbook, TB CCCXXIX f.25 a; Tate, D33181).
But a closer approximation to the layout of the scenery as depicted here can be found in one of a group of color sketches, all measuring roughly 24 x 36 cms, and seemingly observed directly on the spot. (Formerly in the collection of Sir Abe Bailey, and now at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town (1517); Wilton 1979, p. 487, no. 1561. The present work and this group will also be discussed in Ian Warrell’s forthcoming article, "Turner’s Last Group of Swiss Watercolours".) As in several others of the batch, Turner established lively contrasts between mustard yellows or earthy greens and the mauve shadows infused with ultramarine, which, in the case of the Lungernsee study, are all soothed by the luminous sea-green of the lake’s waters.
Many of these elements were transposed into the larger version of the scene considered here, most notably the path of reflected light from the waxing crescent moon, which recalls the subtle impact made by moonlight in a watercolor called The New Moon, one of the celebrated watercolors painted in Venice in 1840 (Christie’s, 10 July 2014, lot 209, Venice: The New MoonThe Dogana from the steps of the Hotel Europa). Compared with its preliminary sketch, the colors of The Lungernsee by Moonlight are greatly distilled, built up in translucent washes, or with flecks of paint to evoke twilight. The surface of the paper is also rubbed or dabbed, introducing highlights, and in other places Turner left traces as he worked with his fingers. As Eric Shanes noted, "a pulsing sense of energy passes through everything" (Shanes 2008, p. 238). Yet this dynamism also relies on a rigorous planning of the underlying structure in details such as the unpainted, or reserved areas of white paper that draw attention to the brilliant snow-capped mountains.
As in the series of late oil paintings in which Turner reworked much earlier Liber Studiorum images, like Norham Castle, Sunrise (c. 1845, Tate), it is debatable whether this watercolor should be considered a finished work. Its appearance was arguably complete for Turner himself (and the twenty-first century eye), but the two related Swiss subjects he produced for John Ruskin indicate that he may have given aspects of the image more definition prior to offering it to a potential collector (Wilton 1979, p. 486, nos. 1550 and 1552).
By the late 1840s Turner had already treated the larger and more famous lakes of Switzerland, especially Lucerne. That fact prompted Henry Wemyss to speculate that Turner’s interest in the modest Lungernsee arose from its recent fame as the site of a widely publicised engineering project. Beginning in 1788, a scheme had got underway to lower the water level in the lake in order that the land exposed could be turned to agricultural use. In order to achieve this feat a tunnel was dug from the Sarnersee below, eventually burrowing up below the lake floor of the Lungernsee. The final stage, in January 1836, involved explosives, following which the water successfully drained away; the new level eventually settling at almost 20 meters lower than previously. This Swiss triumph was extensively reported during the next 18 months throughout Britain, so that Turner must have known of it prior to finding it discussed in his copy of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland (1838) (Murray pp. 59-61. For press coverage, see, for example, London Courier and Evening Gazette, 29 April 1837; Globe, 29 April 1837; Weekly True Sun, 7 May 1837; The Belfast News-Letter, 12 May 1837). Given Turner’s interest in so many contemporary progressive endeavors, it is not surprising to find him absorbing the changes wrought by this human intervention on the landscape. This is more noticeable in the preliminary color study, where the colorless flanks of the lake indicate their relative newness (see The Morning Post on 5 October 1840, which considered the visual impact regrettable, to say the least). By contrast Turner minimizes this glaring feature in The Lungernsee by Moonlight, adding figures and a herd of cows in the foreground that introduce a pastoral quality suggestive of the benefits possible for the local agricultural economy.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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