During his visit to Italy and Switzerland in 1858 Ruskin stayed at Rheinfelden from 19-27 May. One of the objects of his trip was to identify some of the subjects of Turner's watercolours in the National Gallery, which he was cataloguing. He wrote in a letter to his father, 20 May 'If you want to see where I am, just call at the National Gallery as soon as you go back to town and ask Wornum to let you look at the frames Nos. 86, 87, 88, 89, 90' (Cook and Wedderburn, op.cit., vol. VII, p. XXIX). The works by Turner closest to the present drawing are in the Rheinfelden Sketchbook, 1844, nos. TB CCCXLIX 16 and 17.
Ruskin wrote 'Rheinfels, which I knew could not apply to the Rheinfels near Bingen, gave me a clue to the place: an old Swiss town seventeen miles above Basle, celebrated in Swiss history as the main fortress defending the frontier toward the Black Forest. I went here the moment I had got Turner's sketches arranged in 1858 and drew it with the pen (or brush, more difficult to manage, but a better instrument) on every side on which Turner had drawn it, giving every detail with servile accuracy so as to show the exact modification he made as he composed subjects. Mr Le Keux has beautifully copied two of these slides, plates 83 and 84; the first of these is the bridge drawn from the spot whence Turner made this upper memorandum'.
The present drawing was executed on a large scale and was clearly important to Ruskin, it is possibly of the present drawing that he wrote to his father on 24 May, 'I am getting on very well with my drawing: the worst of it is that unless it be as good as Turner's it doesn't please me; so that on the whole I am seldom pleased, and I find it very difficult to sketch after having accustomed myself to finish; but I force myself to it.' (Cook and Wedderburn, op.cit., vol, VII, p. XXIX.
A pen and wash drawing entitled The Bridge at Rheinfelden was engraved as plate 83 of J. Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1860, vol, V, and is listed in A.J. Cook and E.T. Wedderburn, Library Edition of the Works of John Ruskin, 1912, vol. XXXVIII, no. 1372, but measuring 5 x 7½ in. and may be the same drawing as that now in the Sydney Ross Collection, University of Rochester Library, New York, which is described as 'apparently a hasty sketch' and it is possible that the present drawing may have been executed as an improved version for the engraver J.H. Le Keux.
There is a Daguerreotype in the collection of the Ruskin Library, Lancaster, which also shows the Bridge from the same angle and the drawing from which Ruskin, op.cit. pl. 84 is engraved, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
The present watercolour is similar in technique and executed on the same light blue tinted paper as the view of Bellinzona, Switzerland, looking north towards the St Gotthard Pass, which was formerly in the collection of George Goyder and sold in these Rooms 20 November 2003, lot 49.
We are grateful to Dr James S. Dearden and Stephen Wildman for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.