Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lucerne: Moonrise over the Kapellbrücke


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 214 × 277 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Turner Bequest CXVIII b

Catalogue entry

Henry Vaughan by 1878
(see main catalogue entry)
Turner had visited Lucerne on the Swiss leg of his first Continental tour in 1802. The medieval Kapellbrücke, its prominent Wasserturm silhouetted at the centre of Turner’s design with exaggerated vertical proportions, crosses the Reuss just after it exits Lake Lucerne (to the east); from the tower’s position relative to the banks it seems to be shown looking west from the lake (the actual tower being closest to the south bank), although as there appear to be no corresponding drawings among the 1802 sketches this may be fortuitous.
The work has traditionally been categorised as an unengraved Liber Studiorum design. Turner did not record the bridge again until his 1840s visits, for example in the Spires and Heidelberg sketchbook (Tate D29772; Turner Bequest CCXCVII 1). In the subsequent moonlit ‘sample study’ (Tate D36182; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV [a] 324) and finished watercolour of 1843 (British Museum, London)1 the bridge’s tower appears respectively at the left and right ends of the bridge, implying opposite viewpoints. The present design is quite tentative and perhaps therefore datable to the early days of the Liber project; However, Gillian Forrester has compared it technically to the Liber design Moonlight at Sea (Tate D08176; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII V), which she has dated to about 1818.2 In the absence of specific evidence, the span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication, 1807–19, is suggested here as a date range for the present work (as it is for various other unpublished designs). Its general similarities to the designs showing Basle and Laufenberg (see Tate D08110, D08135; Turner Bequest CXVI I, CXVII H) may have led to its rejection, especially as the Basle composition may have originally been intended as a moonlit scene. However, as Andrew Wilton has noted, ‘it does foreshadow in a most interesting way’ the 1843 compositions.3
Henry Vaughan owned the watercolour by 1878,4 and in 1896 Frank Short etched and mezzotinted the composition,5 as one of his interpretations of the unengraved Liber designs (Tate does not hold any impressions; see general Liber introduction).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.484 no.1536, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, p.152 note 7.
Wilton 1982, p.69.
Rawlinson 1878, p.175.
Hardie 1938, pp.73–4 no.42, reproduced p.[121] pl.XXI.
Forrester 1996, pp.16, 25 note 86 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); see also Bower, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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