In his account of a tour through the region in 1841, the Scottish publisher William Chambers wrote that the resort of Spa was ‘highly distinguished’ for its healing mineral springs but that its
celebrity was sustained by various royal valetudinarians from different parts of Europe, and nobles without number. The greatest patron of all, however, was Peter the Great of Russia, who visited it in 1717 – a circumstance never to be forgotten by the inhabitants; for, in gratitude for the benefits which he received, he built a handsome edifice with a portico over the main spring, the Pouhon, at the centre of the village.1
It is this building erected in honour of the Russian monarch’s visit to Spa which Turner has pictured in the present drawing. As Cecilia Powell writes, the pencil sketch ‘shows clearly the five bays of the building above its peristyle of Tuscan columns’ and the inscription on its entablature: ‘a la memoire de pierre le grand’ (‘In memory of Peter the Great’).2
The sketch is a preparatory work for a gouache, pen and ink and watercolour drawing which features a diligence stagecoach and a canopied building on the right (Tate D24610; Turner Bequest CCLIX 45).