J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Basle circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Basle circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI I
Etching printed in brown ink with brown watercolour additions, 185 x 255 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘BASLE’, published J.M.W. Turner, ?11 June 1807 (see main catalogue entry)
Turner had recorded this view of Basel, looking south across the Rhine and the old Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge) to the twin spires of the cathedral, in the Fonthill sketchbook, on his first tour of Switzerland in 1802 (Tate D02231; Turner Bequest XLVII 54). He developed it for the first ‘Architectural’ plate published in the Liber Studiorum, and included a second urban view of the river, at Laufenburg, about twenty miles to the east, later in the series (see Tate D08135; Turner Bequest CXVII H).
About a quarter of the original composition, comprising most of the eastern, stone arches of the bridge to the left, was omitted in the Liber design. Ruskin disliked the composition, finding it ‘remarkable’ that, to complement the British architectural subjects in the Liber, ‘we have nothing foreign to oppose but three slight, ill considered and unsatisfactory subjects, from Basle, Lauffenbourg, and Thun.’1 (See also Tate D08135 and D08160; Turner Bequest CXVII H, CXVIII F.) The present work is an impression of Turner’s outline etching, trimmed to the image with washes added by him as a guide for Charles Turner’s tonal mezzotint engraving work. No freehand watercolour drawing of the usual Liber type is currently traced, though in 1878 Rawlinson noted that a drawing had been sold by the London dealer Halsted ‘some years ago’;2 it was later thought to be in an American collection.3 James Hamilton records a pen and ink study, which he found among a group of works on paper by Mary Somerville, a scientist friend of Turner’s to whom he perhaps gave it, in a family collection.4
The composition is recorded, as ‘1[:] 3 Basle Bridge’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)5 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.6 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘Basle’, in a list of ‘Architecture’ subjects (Tate D12168; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 29a).7
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner and titled ‘BASLE’, which does not bear a publication date, was issued to subscribers in part 1, probably on 11 June 18078 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.2–6;9 see also Tate D08102–D08106; Turner Bequest CXVI A, B, C, D, E). Forrester suggests that the ‘rather tentative outlines’ of the etching may imply that it was one of Turner’s earliest.10 Although the finished plate follows the present work in showing the sun above the bridge, Turner may have originally intended a night effect, as a proof is annotated, probably by its engraver Charles Turner: ‘Moonlight afterwards altered to Sun shine’ (Magdalen College, Oxford).11 Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00919) and the published engraving (A00920). It is the first of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Architectural’ category (see also Tate D08115, D08118, D08126, D08131, D08135, D08142, D08154, D08157, D08160; Turner Bequest CXVI N, Q, Y, CXVII D, H, O, Z, CXVIII C, F).
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.235–6.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, Turner’s Liber Studiorum, A Description and a Catalogue, London 1878, p.15 under no.5
Rawlinson 1906, p.19 under no.5.
Hamilton 1998, p.68 note 34; see also under the Liber drawing for Bridge and Goats (Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R).
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xxxii; Forrester 1996, p.12.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.9–19; 1906, pp.12–23; Finberg 1924, pp.5–24.
Forrester 1996, p.51.
Ibid., note 4; Finberg 1924, p.20.
Technical Notes:
A fine-grained watercolour wash has been used over the etched outline, with the paper reserved for details of the figures and quite carefully painted around, so there was no need for scratching-out to create or tidy the lights. The overall colour is a cool brown, the pigment being an umber shade.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘19’ centre, ‘7’ [circled] bottom centre, and ‘D.08110’ bottom left
There are numerous abrasions where the sheet was previously stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Basle c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-basle-r1131710, accessed 23 June 2024.