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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Lago Maggiore c.1828

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Lago Maggiore c.1828
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 364
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 342 x 602 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 364’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg proposed the subject of this ‘colour beginning’ as a ‘River, with mountains’.1 Andrew Wilton suggested that ‘it may have emerged from Turner’s preparations for the watercolour of Arona on Lake Maggiore2 (private collection),3 made in about 1828. Eric Shanes has concurred, dating this study to about 1819, ‘far in advance of the ... watercolour’, without further comment,4 but evidently in relation to Turner’s first visit to Italy in that year, when he visited the town on the western shore of the south end of the lake, affording dramatic views northwards to the Alps.
There is a pencil study of the walls and towers around Arona’s old harbour, which do not survive, in the Passage of the Simplon sketchbook (Tate D16939; Turner Bequest CXCIV 26a), and an unrelated study of the town in the contemporary Turin, Como, Lugarno, Maggiore sketchbook (Tate D14323–D14324; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 91a–92). The composition of the watercolour appears to be something of a capriccio, with the vantage point shown as an elevated area with trees introduced in the right foreground, and the towers at the harbour entrance prominent at the centre of the design, whereas here there is little to indicate the town. The form on the right appears to be articulated to suggest a tower or campanile, overlooked by a balustrade omitted from the final composition.
Shanes has stated that the mountainous horizon here was based on the detailed upper drawing on another page in the Turin, Como, Lugarno, Maggiore book (Tate D14290; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 75).5 Its precise subject has since been identified as another part of the lake’s surroundings, taken from a viewpoint several miles north of Arona; while not exact, there does seem to be some correlation, which may be fortuitous or another sign that Turner was not overly concerned with topographical precision on this occasion.
Along with many watercolours connected with the ongoing Picturesque Views in England and Wales (see the ‘England and Wales Colour Studies c.1825–39’ and ‘England and Wales c.1826–38’ sections), the Lake Maggiore view was among three Italian subjects exhibited by Charles Heath at London’s Egyptian Hall in the summer of 1829, apparently intended for a complementary Picturesque Views in Italy project due for publication in 1830, which came to nothing.6 One of the subjects had already appeared in 1828’s Keepsake, and the two others followed in the 1829 edition, this one appearing as Lago Maggiore (Tate impressions: T05106, T06139).
Tate D25155 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 33) is another colour study for the subject, with more prominent buildings and a less defined foreground. Wilton mentioned Tate D25301 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 179) in the context of the Lake Maggiore studies.7 It may show a different aspect of the lake; see also Tate D25140 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 18). Both are dated to about 1828 in the ‘Colour Studies’ grouping of the ‘Italianate Landscapes and Classical Architecture c.1817–45’ section elsewhere in this catalogue. Despite Shanes’s suggestion of an earlier origin, as noted above, this sheet has also been placed here at about the same time, in line with the likely date of the finished design and work on other Keepsake subjects.
Finberg 1909, I, p.843.
Wilton 1975, p.94.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.384 no.730, as ‘Arona, Lago Maggiore’, reproduced, pl.203 (colour detail).
See Shanes 1997, pp.29, 98, 99.
Ibid., p.98.
See transcript of MS handlist in John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.[237]–8, with ‘Lago Maggiore’ as no.36 (p.238), and Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.126–7.
Wilton 1975, p.94.
Blank; extensive dark staining at the top centre does not show through to the recto.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Lago Maggiore c.1828 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-lago-maggiore-r1186611, accessed 23 May 2024.