The title ‘Hospice of St Bernard’ was given to this drawing by John Ruskin, following Turner’s label ‘Le Convent de Mont Bernard’ [sic]. This is the more distant of two views from this sketchbook of the Hospice at the top of Great St Bernard Pass; the other is D04496; Turner Bequest LXXIV 4. Turner shows it beyond the small lake, and in the foreground includes three figures, perhaps himself, his travelling companion Newbey Lowson and their guide at the end of their day’s climb from Aosta. Hatched shading indicates the gathering shadows of evening and the water of the lake is shown dark, reflecting the buildings, while in the background the snowy peak of Mont Vélan is picked out in white gouache. There is a preliminary outline of this view from the same sketchbook (D04554; Turner Bequest LXXIV 61).
This drawing led to a preparatory colour study (Tate D25317; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 195), probably made about 1809 when Turner was working up Alpine subjects from 1802 for patrons including Walter Fawkes. A note by Turner ‘8 St. Bernard’ in a list of French and Swiss subjects on the back of a random pencil sketch (Tate D08253; Turner Bequest CXX m) perhaps relates to this project. Notwithstanding Turner’s own impression, affected by the recent war, that ‘Road & accommodations over St Bernard [were] very bad’,1 the historic importance of the Hospice as a place of rest en route to Italy since at least the ninth century A.D., the monks’ tradition of rescuing snow-bound travellers and the recent memory of Napoleon’s stay with them during his crossing of the pass in 1800 made it an obvious subject for a finished work. However, Turner seems to have got no further with the idea and Andrew Wilton has suggested he was ‘daunted’ by the ‘austerity of the subject’.2
As reported to Joseph Farington, 22 November 1802; Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre eds., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.V, August 1801–March 1803, New Haven and London 1979, p.1936.
Andrew Wilton, Turner Abroad: France; Italy; Germany; Switzerland, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 1985, p.32.