Joseph Mallord William Turner

Castle on a Lake, possibly a study for ‘Lake of Geneva’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 244 x 308 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 9

Catalogue entry

This work is one of two watercolour sketches that have been identified as possible studies for Lake of Geneva, the first of Turner’s illustrations in Rogers’s Italy (Tate D27669; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 152). Rogers’s poem begins in Switzerland, which was the most common point of entry to Italy for British travellers on the Grand Tour. Although it is difficult to confirm that this sketch was indeed conceived as a preliminary study for Lake of Geneva, Turner’s subject matter certainly complements Rogers’s description of the Swiss landscape:
These grey majestic cliffs that tower to Heaven,
These glimmering glades and open chestnut-groves,
And who blesses not the light,
When thro’ some loop-hole he surveys the lake
Blue as a sapphire-stone, and richly set
With chateaux, villages, and village-spires,
Orchards and vineyards, alps and alpine snows?
(Italy, p.5)
Turner’s sketchbooks from his 1802 trip to the Continent are filled with similar views of the Swiss lakes. Like this study, many of his earlier drawings seem designed to emphasise the disparity in scale between the monumental Alpine landscape and the villages and castles dwarfed below. Although the subject of this sketch remains unidentified, the castle bears a general resemblance to the one at Chillon that Turner sketched several times during his Swiss tour (see Tate D04570, D04574; Turner Bequest LXXIV 77, 81), and which was the subject of a finished watercolour that he produced after his return to England (British Museum).1 The red roof and heavily wooded surroundings of the castle in the study suggest that Turner may have referred to, or simply remembered, these earlier works in producing this study several decades later. As Cecilia Powell has persuasively argued, topographical accuracy was not a priority for the artist in the making of the vignettes for Rogers’s Italy.2 In light of this fact, and given the sketchy quality of this study, it seems possible that Turner may simply have intended to create a general impression of a Swiss castle without necessarily picturing a specific site.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.344 no.390.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.8.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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