The subject of this sketch is the Gallery of Gondo,1 one of five galleries or tunnels hewn out of the rock at strategic points along the Simplon road between Domodossola and Brig. These tunnels, built by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century, made passage through the mountains possible, even during times of heavy snowfall. The Gallery of Gondo was the longest of these passageways, measuring approximately 200 metres, and linked Simplon and Gabi to the west, with the town of Gondo to the east. Turner’s view look west towards a bridge spanning the falls of the Alpienbach (also known as the Fressinone or Frassinone) which stood near the entrance of the tunnel on the eastern (Italian) side.
The Gallery of Gondo (sometimes also known as the Grand Gallery) was widely considered by nineteenth-century travellers to be one of the most spectacular and dramatic parts of the Simplon route, and it formed the subject of numerous topographical prints. A near-contemporaneous publication illustrated with views by Gabriel Lory, for example, described the scene thus:
If there was nothing in the whole range of the tour of Mount Simplon worth visiting but the spot represented in this plate [View of End of the Grand Gallery Towards Italy], the length and inconvenience of the journey would be well repaid by that alone. The objects are all of the most striking description: the elegantly and artificially constructed bridge is admirably contrasted with the savage wildness of the surrounding scenery: the precipitous and impending rocks frown over the tasteful work of man, and seem indignant that it has been intruded into the recesses of their gloomy solitude.2
Turner made several sketches of the view both within this sketchbook, see folios 90–91 (D14318–D14320; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 89–90), and also within the Passage to the Simplon sketchbook (Tate D16933, D16943, D40960; Turner Bequest CXCIV 23a and 28a, and inside back cover). These studies later formed the basis for The Simplon, c.1833,3 a watercolour vignette which was engraved and published in Scott’s Prose Works, 1834–6 (see Tate T04743).4
See Crimi 2007, pp.33 note 41 and Crimi 2009, p.46 note 18.
Jean Frédéric Ostervald, Gabriel Lory and Frederic Shoberl, Picturesque Tour from Geneva to Milan, by Way of the Simplon, London 1820, p.86.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1112 (whereabouts unknown).
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1913, vol.II, no.535.