Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lake of Thun


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 185 × 264 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI R

Catalogue entry

Etching, drypoint and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘LAKE OF THUN, SWISS.’, published Charles Turner, 10 June 1808
Turner visited the Thunersee in the Swiss Alps on his first Continental tour in 1802. He based his Liber Studiorum composition on one of many pencil sketches of the lake in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04717; Turner Bequest LXXVI 60 – see also variant study D04818; LXXVI 61); the sketch, looking west from Neuhaus to the Niesen and Stockhorn mountains, includes scribbled indications of storm clouds, with a zigzag pencil stroke in the sky to the right, showing the bolt of lightning in the position over the Stockhorn adopted in the Liber design and in a larger watercolour version of about the same date (private collection),1 with the lightning extended almost down to the distant shoreline. In the Liber design, additional flashes were introduced over the summit on the left, and the composition was praised by Stopford Brooke for ‘the imaginative conception of the towering Niesen, at home amongst the lightnings and the storm.’2
It seems likely that the more elaborate watercolour preceded the present wash design, and that Turner had it to hand, given the closeness of many details. What appears in the watercolour to be a puff of smoke, perhaps resulting from a lightning strike, is omitted in the Liber drawing, but was re-introduced to the engraving; Brooke wondered if Turner was depicting ‘the rare phenomenon of “arborescent lightning”’.3
The topography of the distant mountains is consistent in the two versions, and follows the main masses of the original sketch quite closely, though the peaks on the left are obscured by cloud in the watercolour; and foreground figures dealing with the baggage and cart (not present in the pencil sketch) are also similar, though a pair with a wheelbarrow in the watercolour are replaced in the Liber design by one with a musket, comparable with the uniformed men recorded in the Swiss Figures sketchbook (Tate D04812; Turner Bequest LXXVIII 15). Ruskin disapproved of ‘the puzzled foreground and inappropriate figures’,4 though they are presumably intended to be hurrying to escape the storm.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.342 no.373, reproduced p.97 pl.96 (colour).
Brooke 1885, p.55.
Ibid., p.54.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.236.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.30–9; 1906, pp.37–48; Finberg 1924, pp.45–64.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.
Forrester 1996, p.62.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

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