Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lago Maggiore


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 342 × 602 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 364

Catalogue entry

Finberg proposed the subject of this ‘colour beginning’ as a ‘River, with mountains’.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 prominent at the centre of the design, whereas here there is little to indicate the town. The form on the right appears to be articulated to suggest a tower or campanile, overlooked by a balustrade omitted from the final composition.
Shanes has stated that the mountainous horizon here was based on the detailed upper drawing on another page in the Turin, Como, Lugarno, Maggiore book (Tate D14290; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 75).5 Its precise subject has since been identified as another part of the lake’s surroundings, taken from a viewpoint several miles north of Arona; while not exact, there does seem to be some correlation, which may be fortuitous or another sign that Turner was not overly concerned with topographical precision on this occasion.
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).
Finberg 1909, I, p.843.
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.
Ibid., p.98.
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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