Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Hospice. Great St Bernard with the Lake (I), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’

c.1826–7

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 244 x 304 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27670
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 153

Catalogue entry

Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette was engraved by W.R. Smith and appears as the head-piece to the fourth section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Great St Bernard’.1 It shows the Hospice of St Bernard, situated at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass, the oldest of the Alpine pass routes. The existence of a hospice on this site dates back to at least the ninth century.2 The monks who ran the establishment provided food and shelter to anyone crossing the pass. They bred the famous St Bernard dogs that were trained to find and retrieve stranded travellers. Turner also produced an end-piece for this section in which he shows two of the dogs resting after having located the body of a young girl, whom two monks are carrying away to the mortuary below (Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie).3
Rogers devotes several pages to a description of his experience at the hospice, which he praises as ‘That plain, that modest structure, promising | Bread to the hungry, to the weary rest.’4 Turner’s illustration provides a clear visual counterpart to the poem’s description of the shelter and its frozen surroundings:
Long could I have stood,
With a religious awe contemplating
That House, the highest in the Ancient World,
And destined to perform from age to age
The noblest service, welcoming as guests
All of all nations and of every faith;
A Temple, sacred to Humanity!
...
And, just beneath it, in that dreary dale,
If dale it might be called, so near to Heaven,
A little lake, where never fish leaped up,
Lay like a spot of ink amid the snow;
A star, the only one in that small sky,
On its dead surface glimmering.
(Italy, pp.12–13)
Turner himself crossed the St Bernard Pass during his Swiss tour of 1802. Whilst there, he produced several sketches of the hospice, one of which bears particularly close compositional similarities to this vignette (see Tate D04496; Turner Bequest LXXIV 4). Two other sketches show the hospice from a distance, surrounded by heavy snow drifts and majestic rising mountains (see Tate D04548, D04554; Turner Bequest LXXIV 55, 61). Following his return to England, Turner produced a colour study of the hospice, possibly as an experimental composition for the set of Swiss subjects that he made for Walter Fawkes in 1806–9 (see Tate D25317; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 195).5 This study bears little direct resemblance to the vignette composition for Italy, and it seems unlikely that the two are related.6
1
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.11; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. vol.II, London 1913, no.351. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04635 and T04636).
2
Hill 1992, p.84.
3
Wilton 1979, no.1156; engraved by W.R. Smith, see Rawlinson 1913, no.352. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04637 and T04638).
4
Rogers 1830, p.16.
5
Russell and Wilton 1976, p.53.
6
Ibid.
7
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.13 note 86. For more information about Turner’s involvement in the engraving process and examples of his annotated proofs, see Eric M. Lee, Translations: Turner and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1993.
8
Powell 1983, p.10.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

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