Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)

Sisteron from the North-West, with a Low Sun

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851)
Sisteron from the North-West, with a Low Sun
pencil, watercolor and bodycolor, with pen and ink, on buff paper
5½ x 7½ in. (14 x 19 cm.)
Myles Birket Foster, London (circa 1860); sale, Christie's, London, 28 April 1894, lot 41 (titled In the Rhone Valley; 90 gns to Colonel Sale).
Private collection, United Kingdom.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 10 November 1994, lot 172.
Jan Krugier, acquired at the above sale.
Birket Foster Album, circa 1860, no. 60.
E. Yardley, 'The Turner Collection: the Birket Foster Collection of Turner Watercolours' in Turner Studies, His Art & Epoch 1775-1851, Summer 1988, vol. VIII, p. 52, no. 1 (illustrated, pl. 4).
A. Dückers, Linie, Licht und Schatten: Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, Berlin, 1999, Catalogue raisonné, p. 419 (illustrated).
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, The Timeless Eye: Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, September-December 1999, p. 200, no. 93 (illustrated in color, p. 201).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin Tiempo: Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Colección Jan y Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, February-May 2000, p. 204, no. 86 (illustrated in color, p. 205).

Lot Essay

This is one of a handful of views Turner made during a short visit to Sisteron, in the Alpes Maritimes in Southern France. The fortress town commands the upper Durance valley (which flows down to Avignon) on the road heading north to Gap. The challenges of the terrain in this region ensure that Sisteron is a fixture on the Tour de France route. Just to the north of the town is the confluence of the Durance and its smaller tributary, the Buech, and it was from this angle that Turner painted most of his color studies.

All of the watercolors Turner made of Sisteron are of roughly the same dimensions, created on small pieces of a light buff-grey paper, which was cut down from a much larger sheet. As the paper historian Peter Bower has demonstrated, during his travels Turner liked to fold these large pieces of colored paper into sixteen smaller sections, working initially in pencil, and occasionally developing his sketches in watercolor (see Peter Bower, Turner's Later Papers. A Study in the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820-1851, London, 1999, pp. 69, 83-4, 105-7, 109). In Sisteron Turner made quick pencil notes both in his Genoa to Grenoble sketchbook (Turner Bequest CCXCV; Tate Britain), as well as on the buff paper used for the watercolors (see Turner Bequest CCCXLII 7, 8, 15, 19, 26; Tate Britain). These sketches have been discussed by Roland Courtot in his article 'Turner à Sisteron' (Méditerranée, CII, 2004, pp. 157-164).

In addition to the strikingly atmospheric study under discussion, Turner painted at least five other watercolors of the town: Sisteron from La Cazette to the North (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester); Sisteron from the North, with the Rocher de la Baume (Victoria and Albert Museum, London); Sisteron from the North (Private Collection); Watermill at Sisteron (Private Collection; sold Christie's, London, 17 November 2006, lot 97). The fifth view is a watercolor showing the bridge over the river Buech, which forms the foreground of the present view of Sisteron (currently erroneously titled Pont de Buzet at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; see Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 419, no. 1008).

Turner's preference for a viewpoint to the north of Sisteron meant that he was looking directly into the light. As a result he had to define the main points of pictorial interest chiefly as silhouetted outlines: on the right is the citadel constructed by Vauban, and to its left is the scooping cleft of the Rocher de la Baume. Turner's decision to adopt this vantage point, here and in the other watercolors, resulted in the use of vibrant colors for the shadows, which depart radically from the naturalism of the period.

For the moment, the precise date of the visit remains uncertain. The traditional idea that Turner's route to Rome in 1828 may have encompassed Sisteron no longer seems tenable. Another possibility is the suggestion that Turner may have passed through the region at the end of his 1836 tour of the Val d'Aosta, after he parted from his travelling companion H.A.J. Munro of Novar at Turin. But it is also conceivable that the tour may prove to have taken place a year or two later.

The first known owner of Sisteron from the North-West was Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899), himself a British watercolor artist. It was one of eight works by Turner in his collection, which was described by Marcus Huish as a 'shrine of the great master of watercolour art a wonderful bouquet of colour, as full and rich as on the day on which the artist stayed his hand upon them.'

We are grateful to Ian Warrell, who is currently preparing a study of Turner's later Swiss watercolors for Yale University Press, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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