Joseph Mallord William Turner

The St Gotthard Road between Amsteg and Wassen


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 156 × 201 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXVI 66

Catalogue entry

For the St Gotthard route, see especially folio 30 of this sketchbook (D04686). As Finberg was the first to observe, this sketch was worked up into a large colour study (Tate D04897; Turner Bequest LXXX D). The St Gotthard subject is confirmed by David Hill’s identification of the colour study, earlier suggestions having been the Great St Bernard Pass or the Jungfrau from the Lauterbrunnen road (both proposed by Finberg, who while noticing the connection with the pencil sketch did not give it a specific title). Previously, John Russell and Andrew Wilton had already suggested that the colour study might show the St Gotthard route, below Göschenen, in the Reuss valley, looking towards Wassen. They, and subsequently Wilton independently thought the coloured version was an unfinished watercolour, perhaps planned as a pendant to a large watercolour acquired by Walter Fawkes (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut).1
The mark on the pencil sketch, usually identified as a cross, has been taken to indicate Turner’s choice of the subject for further development; it may actually be the initial ‘F’, indicating Fawkes. This writer, however, has suggested a prospective alternative pairing, with the Battle of Fort Rock, Val d’Aouste, Piedmont, 1796, exhibited in 1815 but unsold (Tate D04900; Turner Bequest LXXX G). Since the colour study appears to show pilgrims, this would contrast the return of the Alpine routes to their peacetime functions with their recent role in war.2 In the event, Turner based his companion work for the 1815 exhibition on a view of Lake Lucerne on folio 41 of this sketchbook (Tate D04698).
Wilton 1979, p.341 no.365 as ‘Glacier and source of the Arveron, going up to the Mer de Glace’ exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803. More recently Eric Shanes has argued that the Yale watercolour should be redated circa 1814 and associated with another title recorded in Fawkes’s collection, Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland; ‘Identifying Turner’s Chamonix water-colours’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.142, no.1172, November 2000, pp.693–4. Shanes’s case is persuasive on technical and stylistic grounds but for a cautious response see Gillian Forrester in John Baskett, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson and others, Paul Mellon’s Legacy: A Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2007, p.283.
David Blayney Brown, Turner in the Alps 1802, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, p.184.

David Blayney Brown
February 2012

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