Joseph Mallord William Turner

Mt St Gothard

c.1806–7

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 184 x 260 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08113
Turner Bequest CXVI L

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘MT. ST. GOTHARD.’, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
Turner visited the St Gotthard Pass, an important route through the Alps between central Switzerland and northern Italy, on his first visit to the Continent in 1802, though he did not cross into Italy at this stage. The present view is from the Schöllenen Gorge, looking north along the valley of the Reuss above Goschenen.1 Although a watercolour study in the St Gothard [sic] and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate D04625; Turner Bequest LXXV 33) has been noted as a source on which the Liber design was ‘loosely based’,2 its direct inspiration has been identified as a pencil drawing in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04719; Turner Bequest LXXVI 62),3 including indications of the tunnel and the light beyond it; in the present work he used this natural arch to frame a figure which was further emphasised in the finished print. He also introduced a packhorse or mule, perhaps to emphasise the arduous nature of the journey through the pass, ‘a symbol of the labour that built the road, and daily uses it.’4 Others appear in another Liber design of about the same date, the Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard, which was engraved but not published (for drawing see Tate N03631). Another landmark on the St Gotthard route, the Little Devil’s Bridge, also featured in the series (Tate D08123; Turner Bequest CXVI V). The three compositions appear successively in Turner’s MS list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (see below).
Ruskin went to considerable lengths to praise Turner’s subtlety in implying the structure of rock forms through curving lines as exemplified in this composition, by comparison with the mountain forms of Salvator Rosa (1615–1673).5 Stopford Brooke devoted several pages in exploring the geological truths expressed in the composition,6 while also noting the road as ‘the difficult triumph of human energy over the terrible forces of Nature’.7
The composition is recorded, as ‘2[:] 3 Mt St Gothard’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)8 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.9 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘St Gothard’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).10
1
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.136 (reproducing Liber engraving), 137.
2
Forrester 1996, p.55.
3
Russell and Wilton 1976, p.137.
4
Brooke 1885, p.31.
5
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.475 note.
6
Brooke 1885, pp.32–5.
7
Ibid., p.[30].
8
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
9
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
10
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
11
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg London 1924, pp.25–44.
12
Wilton 1980, p.122.
13
Forrester 1996, pp.55–6 and note 4.
14
Rawlinson 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.36.
15
Hardie 1938, p.52 no.14.
16
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.72.
17
Ibid., p.73, reproduced.
1
Forrester 1996, p.55 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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