Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lago Maggiore


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 311 × 585 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 33

Display caption

The setting shown in this richly coloured unfinished watercolour has so far not been identified. It may relate to other studies that Turner made in Northern
Italy and near the Mediterranean coast. The distant mountains could well be
those around the lakes of Garda or
Como, which Turner had visited in 1819.


The central area of the foreground of this represents the preliminary structures of a town or city. This gives some idea of how Turner steadily built up the details of his finished watercolours.


Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Finberg proposed the subject of this ‘colour beginning’ as a ‘North Italian Lake’.1 Andrew Wilton suggested that ‘it may have emerged from Turner’s preparations for the watercolour of Arona on Lake Maggiore2 (private collection),3 made in about 1828. Eric Shanes has concurred, dating this study to about 1819, ‘far in advance of the ... watercolour’, without further comment,4 but evidently in relation to Turner’s first visit to Italy in that year, when he visited the town, on the western shore of the south end of the lake, affording dramatic views northwards to the Alps.
There is a pencil study of the walls and towers around Arona’s old harbour, which do not survive, in the Passage of the Simplon sketchbook (Tate D16939; Turner Bequest CXCIV 26a), and an unrelated study of the town in the contemporary Turin, Como, Lugarno, Maggiore sketchbook (Tate D14323–D14324; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 91a–92). The composition of the watercolour appears to be something of a capriccio, with the vantage point shown as an elevated area with trees introduced in the right foreground, and the towers at the harbour entrance much more prominent at the centre of the design than the relatively inconspicuous structures indicated here.5
Along with many watercolours connected with the ongoing Picturesque Views in England and Wales (see the ‘England and Wales Colour Studies c.1825–39’ and ‘England and Wales c.1826–38’ sections) the Lake Maggiore view was among three Italian subjects exhibited by Charles Heath at London’s Egyptian Hall in the summer of 1829, apparently intended for a complementary Picturesque Views in Italy project due for publication in 1830, which came to nothing.6 One of the subjects had already appeared in 1828’s Keepsake, and the two others followed in the 1829 edition, this one appearing as Lago Maggiore (Tate impressions: T05106, T06139; see the Introduction to the present section).
Tate D25487 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 364) is another colour study for the subject, with less prominent buildings, and a balustrade defining the foreground. Wilton compared the present work with Tate D25301 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 179),7 which may show a different aspect of the lake; see also Tate D25140 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 18). Both are dated to about 1828 in the ‘Colour Studies’ grouping of the ‘Italianate Landscapes and Classical Architecture c.1817–45’ section elsewhere in this catalogue. Despite Shanes’s suggestion of an earlier origin, as noted above, this sheet has also been placed here at about the same time, in line with the likely date of the finished design and work on other Keepsake subjects.
Finberg 1909, I, p.817.
Wilton 1975, p.94.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.384 no.730, as ‘Arona, Lago Maggiore’, reproduced, pl.203 (colour detail).
See Shanes 1997, pp.29, 98, 99.
See the discussion in Crimi 2006, p.192 note 25.
See transcript of MS handlist in John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.[237]–8, with ‘Lago Maggiore’ as no.36 (p.238), and Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.126–7.
Wilton 1975, p.94.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

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