Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lake Lucerne from Fluelen


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 156 × 201 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXVI 41

Catalogue entry

This sketch was taken from the landing place at Fluelen, at the eastern extremity of Lake Lucerne, looking back up the lake over the waters over which Turner had just sailed from Lucerne itself at its western tip, and towards William Tell’s chapel. The peaks of the Bauenstöcke and the Seelisberg rise above the lake on the left, the foot of the Axenberg on the right. Turner was on his way south-eastwards towards the River Reuss, the city of Altdorf (noted in his inscription) and the St Gotthard Pass. Another view from the landing place may be on folio 42 of this sketchbook (D04699). For Tell’s Chapel, see especially folios 70 and 71 (D04730, D04731). William Hauptman records that the journey from Lucerne, a distance of about twenty-five miles, was then only possible by boat; sailing boats with oarsmen usually covered it in about six hours. Rowing boats are visible to the left of Turner’s sketch.
As first noticed when it was exhibited at Oxford, this sketch served as the basis for the watercolour Lake of Lucerne, from the Landing Place at Fluelen, Looking Towards Bauen and Tell’s Chapel, Switzerland exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815 (but perhaps made earlier) and acquired by Walter Fawkes (recently on the London art market).1 The watercolour was conceived as a companion to The Battle of Fort Rock, Val d’Aouste, Piedmont, 1796 (Tate D04900; Turner Bequest LXXX G) and is usually thought to be a contrasting representation of peace. However, the presence in it of a girl who appears to be weeping and a distraught elderly woman whose baggage has been overturned suggest underlying tensions. These too might recall recent disturbances; in June 1799 the Austrians had joined the local Swiss to eject the occupying French but the French had returned across the lake, forcing the Austrians to retreat, while a Russian army approaching from the St Gotthard was also driven back. See folio 66 of this sketchbook (D04726) for another possible alternative subject for a companion work, realised only in an unfinished watercolour (Tate D04897; Turner Bequest LXXX D). Turner also added military narrative to his reworkings, for Walter Fawkes and for the Liber Studiorum, of his view of Lake Thun from the landing place at Neuhaus on folio 60 (D04717).
Wilton 1979, p.342 no.378; Sotheby’s sale, 4 July 2007 (lot 7).

David Blayney Brown
October 2009

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