Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches on the Simplon Road, including the Entrance to the Gallery of Gondo


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 121 × 195 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

This page contains three distinct sketches depicting various views within the mountains en route to the Simplon Pass. The largest scene in the centre of the sheet is identifiable as the Gallery of Gondo,1 one of five galleries or tunnels hewn out of the rock at strategic points along the road between Domodossola and Brig. These tunnels, built by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century, made passage through the mountains possible, even during times of heavy snowfall. The Gallery of Gondo was the longest of these passageways, measuring approximately 600 feet, and linked Simplon and Gabi to the west, with the town of Gondo to the east. Turner’s views look west towards the tunnel’s entrance (on the Italian side) and a bridge spanning the falls of the Alpienbach (also known as the Fressinone or Frassinone).
The Gallery of Gondo (sometimes also known as the Grand Gallery) was widely considered by nineteenth-century travellers to be one of the most spectacular and dramatic parts of the Simplon route, and it formed the subject of numerous topographical prints. A near contemporaneous publication illustrated with views by Gabriel Lory, for example, described the scene thus:
If there was nothing in the whole range of the tour of Mount Simplon worth visiting but the spot represented in this plate [View of End of the Grand Gallery Towards Italy], the length and inconvenience of the journey would be well repaid by that alone. The objects are all of the most striking description: the elegantly and artificially constructed bridge is admirably contrasted with the savage wildness of the surrounding scenery: the precipitous and impending rocks frown over the tasteful work of man, and seem indignant that it has been intruded into the recesses of their gloomy solitude.2
Turner made several sketches of the view within this sketchbook, see folios 23 verso and 28 verso (D16933 and D16943), and also within the Turin, Como, Lugarno, Maggiore sketchbook (Tate D14317–D14320; CLXXIV 88a–90. These studies later formed the basis for The Simplon circa 1833,3 a watercolour vignette which was engraved and published in Scott’s Prose Works, 1834–6 (see Tate T04743).4

Nicola Moorby
May 2011

See Crimi 2007, pp.37 and 38 note 53.
Jean Frédéric Ostervald, Gabriel Lory and Frederic Shoberl, Picturesque Tour from Geneva to Milan, by Way of the Simplon, London 1820, p.86.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1112 (whereabouts unknown).
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1913, vol.II, no.535.

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