Turner’s label for this drawing is inscribed ‘Lac de Brientz Suisse’. His first, on-the-spot sketch of the subject is in the smaller Rhine, Strassburg and Oxford sketchbook (Tate D04780; Turner Bequest LXXVII 38), indicating that this drawing was either a second version begun on the same occasion or was worked up later. The view is from the quay at Brienz, across the eastern end of the lake towards the Faulhorn range of mountains. John Russell and Andrew Wilton state that the Axalp and Rothenfluh are visible.
Turner took this drawing as the basis of a finished watercolour, signed and dated 1809 (British Museum, London).1 From John Ruskin onwards, the watercolour has often been said to have been made for Sir John Swinburne but another label in the set belonging to the Grenoble drawings is inscribed ‘E Swinburne | 30 G – ½ the Clyde’. This refers to Edward, either the brother (or, less likely, the son) of Sir John, and indicates a commission for thirty guineas for a watercolour half the size of one of the Falls of the Clyde. Turner’s watercolour of that subject exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)2 is indeed approximately double the size of the Swinburne Lake of Brienz. For another Swinburne commission from this sketchbook, a view of Chillon and Lake Geneva, see notes to D04535; Turner Bequest LXXIV 42.
Writing of the drawing and ensuing watercolour in the Marlborough House catalogue, John Ruskin described both as inclining ‘rather to a gloomy view of Swiss landscape ... very self-denying in the matter of snow’. Of the drawing he thought the ‘horizontal line of mist above the lake is here very true and lovely’.3
The paper is discoloured from exposure.