The watercolors that Turner produced during and following his late tours of Switzerland have long been recognized as the artist’s last triumphant burst of creativity, including such celebrated masterpieces as The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (Christie’s, London, 5 June 2006; now Tate Britain). For the four years between 1841 and 1844, Turner traveled extensively through the alpine region, revisiting many of the towns, lakes and passes that he had first encountered forty years earlier, as well as discovering new places as he criss-crossed the country.
One of these novelties was the Domleschg valley, situated between Thusis and Reichenau, a pleasantly walkable stretch of about ten miles, among craggy hillsides dotted with castles and ruined towers above the churning waters of the Hinterrhein. Looking either to the north or the south, the valley is closed off by distant peaks. But after the narrow and oppressive canyon of the Via Mala, to the south of Thusis, the broad Domleschg valley offers a vibrant and joyous contrast.
During his visit in 1843 Turner responded by creating a series of colored sketches on well over half of the sheets of one of the soft-covered, ‘roll’ sketchbooks that he favored in his later years, which usually contained between 20-24 pages; in this case made up with his favorite Whatman paper. Since John Ruskin was the owner of the majority of the other pages, it is probable that this watercolor also passed through his collection.
Turner’s color sketches form a sequence of views that delineate the scenery along the valley from south to north, culminating in a pair of views of Schloss Rhäzüns (Private collection). Another watercolor sold in these Rooms shows the entrance to the Via Mala and Thusis (Christie’s, New York, 28 January 2009, lot 36), while a related color study in the British Museum (formerly known as ‘Bellinzona’) provides a more distant view towards the same focal point (1910-2-12-288; Wilton 1490). Slightly to the east of Thusis, the ruined castle of Ehrenfels above Sils-in-Domleschg, was the subject of a sheet at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Wilton 1511).
The present watercolor is one of at least three to depict the central part of the valley between Sils-in-Domleschg and Schloss Ortenstein bei Tomils, near Rothenbrunnen. The latter castle is that perched high on the distant headland in the center of the composition, and is also the focus of two further watercolors in private collections (Wilton 1495 and 1508; the latter also sold at Christie's, 7 June 2001, lot 161). This stretch of the river was not then contained in a flood-proof channel, and instead followed a more meandering course below the various ruined towers, including those of Alt-Süns and Neu-Süns at Paspels. The latter appear in the color sketch at Oldham Art Gallery (not in Wilton; see Powell 1991), which shares a number of key features with this scene, as well as many of the same color tones. However, whereas yellow predominates in the Oldham sketch, here Turner gives rein to a more nuanced range of blue-green shades that provide greater depth, while also using either a fine brush or the nib of a pen dipped in watercolor to add contour and detail.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.