There is at least one other slighter version of this subject from the same sketchbook (D04541; Turner Bequest LXXIV 48), and perhaps another, called Martigny by Finberg (D04557; Turner Bequest LXXIV 64). John Ruskin’s first title for the present drawing, ‘Tower on Hill. Mine’, reflected its being the same composition as a watercolour in his collection (Wolverhampton Art Gallery)1 whose original title was not recorded2 but which he lent to the Fine Art Society, London in 1878 as ‘Italy of the Olden Time’. This watercolour seems to have been made for Sir William Pilkington, who may have chosen the subject at the same time as his friend Walter Fawkes made his own choices from Turner’s 1802 drawings. Subsequently Ruskin renamed it ‘Dark Pastoral’ and then ‘Scene in Savoy’. Lending the watercolour under the last title to an exhibition at Douglas in 1880, Ruskin wrote about the Bequest drawing in the catalogue: ‘the pencil sketch is in a group of early ones lent by the National Gallery Trustees to Oxford. I found the sketch in arranging the series for Oxford, having before mistakenly described the scene as in Italy in my notes on my Turner exhibition. The drawing is one of much earlier date... and in Turner’s grandest classical manner; the trees, however, not yet rightly drawn, but more or les copied from Poussin.’3
Evidently, Ruskin did not know the exact subject, and discussing the watercolour at the time of its acquisition by Wolverhampton, Andrew Wilton was also unable to identify it.4 For the 1999 Tate/Martigny exhibition, the present writer suggested that the drawing catalogued here depicted Morgex, in the Valdigne, on the basis of the puzzling or incomplete inscription5 which Finberg read as ‘“Marlec” – or “Mardu” or “Mardec”’. This location was afterwards rejected by David Hill.6 On further reflection it seems more likely that Turner’s inscription refers to Martigny, in which case the subject would be a classicised view of the Castle of La Bâtiaz from the River Drance. Any resemblance to Martigny and its castle is stronger in the drawings than in the watercolour, which is even more idealised, especially in the foreground. The identification remains tentative.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.345 no.401, as untraced.
After Pilkington this watercolour belonged to John Dillon at whose sale it was bought for Ruskin by Vokins; see Evelyn Joll, ‘Dillon, John’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.77; Ruskin on Pictures, London 1902, pp.342, 437.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.458 note 1.
Wilton 1983, pp.57–8.
David Blayney Brown, Turner in the Alps 1802, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, p.120.
Hill 1999, p.5.