Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Lake of Geneva, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 243 × 305 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 152

Catalogue entry

This watercolour was the model for the first illustration in Samuel Rogers’s de luxe edition of Italy, published in 1830. Engraved by Edward Goodall, it appears as the head-piece to Rogers’s first section, also entitled ‘The Lake of Geneva’.1 Goodall was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs. He produced plates for nearly all of Turner’s print commissions, engraving eleven out of the twenty-five designs that Turner painted for Italy.
The Lake of Geneva (also known as Lake Leman) was a major landmark for British travellers as they made their way southward to Italy. Rogers describes the lake in his poem as ‘the mirror of all beauty’ with ‘A thousand shadows of a thousand hues | Chequering the clear expanse’.2 This description is brought to life in Turner’s illustration, which shows the blue hills and snow-capped peaks of the surrounding landscape reflected in the water’s shimmering surface. The central subject of Turner’s vignette derives from Rogers’s description of a passage-boat filled with peasant girls:
Day glimmered and I went, a gentle breeze
Ruffling the Leman Lake. Wave after wave,
If such they might be called, dashed as in sport,
Not anger, with the pebbles on the beach
Making wild music, and far westward caught
The sun-beam –
And soon a passage-boat swept gaily by,
Laden with peasant girls and fruits and flowers,
And many a chanticleer and partlet caged
For Vevay’s market-place – a motley group
Seen thro’ the silvery haze. But soon ’twas gone.
The shifting sail flapped idly to and fro,
Then bore them off.
(Italy, p.3)
Turner adds an element of romance to the scene by including several young soldiers in the group occupying the boat. Boating parties were among Turner’s favourite subjects and they appear in a number of his landscape watercolours from this period, including Nottingham (Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery),3 Saltash from the Picturesque Views of England and Wales (British Museum),4 as well as Jumièges (Tate D24696; Turner Bequest CCLIX 131) from the French Rivers series. In addition to making extensive sketches of his natural surroundings while travelling, Turner also recorded local costumes for later use in his finished landscape compositions. The colourful uniforms and dresses in Lake of Geneva may refer to figure sketches from Turner’s 1802 trip to Switzerland (see Tate D04799–800, D04809–10, D04814, D04816; Turner Bequest LXXVIII 2–3, 12–3, 17–8).
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.1; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.348. Two impressions are in Tate’s collection (T04631 and T04632).
Rogers 1830, p.4.
Wilton 1979, no.850.
Ibid., no.794.
Ibid., no.370.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.10

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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