J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

Joseph Mallord William Turner Mt St Gothard circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Mt St Gothard circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI L
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 184 x 260 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers as ‘MT. ST. GOTHARD.’ in part 2 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.7–11;11 see also Tate D08111, D08112, D08114, D08115; Turner Bequest CXVI J, K, M, N). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00927) and the published engraving (A00928). It is the first of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08119, D08123, D08130, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI R, V, CXVII C, G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B, G). Andrew Wilton has proposed a reading of the letters at the head of the published plate (‘M.S’ rather than the ‘M’ used for later ‘Mountainous’ subjects) as indicating a conscious ‘Mountainous Sublime’ sub-category which Turner may have subsequently discarded as an unnecessary refinement, given the inherent sublimity of such terrain;12 Forrester notes a previously unrecorded impression lettered only ‘M’, indicating that the additional ‘S’ was indeed deliberate, but suggests that the meaning cannot be firmly established given Turner’s fundamentally ‘unsystematic’ approach.13
Between 1858 and 1865 Thomas Lupton began a facsimile of the print as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi, but did not carry it beyond the etching stage14 (see general Liber introduction). In 1920, Frank Short etched and mezzotinted this composition,15 as one of his interpretations of the published Liber plates (Tate T0505516 and T05056;17 see general Liber introduction).
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.136 (reproducing Liber engraving), 137.
Forrester 1996, p.55.
Russell and Wilton 1976, p.137.
Brooke 1885, p.31.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.475 note.
Brooke 1885, pp.32–5.
Ibid., p.[30].
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg London 1924, pp.25–44.
Wilton 1980, p.122.
Forrester 1996, pp.55–6 and note 4.
Rawlinson 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.36.
Hardie 1938, p.52 no.14.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.72.
Ibid., p.73, reproduced.
Technical Notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘1794 | J Whatman’.1 There is a film of adventitious material on the surface. The composition was perhaps begun on lightly-washed paper; the sky was done on wet paper, then with wet washes, the rest being washed then heightened with brushstrokes of watercolour. A very fine brush was used for hatching strokes. Scratching-out was only used for the waterfall at the left. The single umber pigment results in an overall cool brown tone.2
Forrester 1996, p.55 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘477’ centre, ‘D.08113’ bottom left, and ‘5’ [circled] bottom centre
Thin tape and the residue of former mounting are evident all round the edges; a prominent mark, possibly the edge of a water stain crosses the lower third of the sheet, which is abraded, possibly from having been formerly stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Mt St Gothard c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-mt-st-gothard-r1131715, accessed 21 September 2014.