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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Lake of Thun circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Lake of Thun circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI R
Pencil and watercolour on white wove writing paper, 185 x 264 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching, drypoint and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘LAKE OF THUN, SWISS.’, published Charles Turner, 10 June 1808
Turner visited the Thunersee in the Swiss Alps on his first Continental tour in 1802. He based his Liber Studiorum composition on one of many pencil sketches of the lake in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04717; Turner Bequest LXXVI 60 – see also variant study D04818; LXXVI 61); the sketch, looking west from Neuhaus to the Niesen and Stockhorn mountains, includes scribbled indications of storm clouds, with a zigzag pencil stroke in the sky to the right, showing the bolt of lightning in the position over the Stockhorn adopted in the Liber design and in a larger watercolour version of about the same date (private collection),1 with the lightning extended almost down to the distant shoreline. In the Liber design, additional flashes were introduced over the summit on the left, and the composition was praised by Stopford Brooke for ‘the imaginative conception of the towering Niesen, at home amongst the lightnings and the storm.’2
It seems likely that the more elaborate watercolour preceded the present wash design, and that Turner had it to hand, given the closeness of many details. What appears in the watercolour to be a puff of smoke, perhaps resulting from a lightning strike, is omitted in the Liber drawing, but was re-introduced to the engraving; Brooke wondered if Turner was depicting ‘the rare phenomenon of “arborescent lightning”’.3
The topography of the distant mountains is consistent in the two versions, and follows the main masses of the original sketch quite closely, though the peaks on the left are obscured by cloud in the watercolour; and foreground figures dealing with the baggage and cart (not present in the pencil sketch) are also similar, though a pair with a wheelbarrow in the watercolour are replaced in the Liber design by one with a musket, comparable with the uniformed men recorded in the Swiss Figures sketchbook (Tate D04812; Turner Bequest LXXVIII 15). Ruskin disapproved of ‘the puzzled foreground and inappropriate figures’,4 though they are presumably intended to be hurrying to escape the storm.
The composition is recorded, as ‘4[:] 4 Thun’, 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 Forrester to before the middle of 1808.6 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘Thun Lake’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).7
The Liber Studiorum etching, drypoint and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers as ‘LAKE OF THUN, SWISS.’ in part 3 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.12–16;8 see also Tate D08116–D08118, D08120; Turner Bequest CXVI O, P, Q, Vaughan Bequest CXVI S). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00939) and the published engraving (A00940). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08123, D08130, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI L, V, CXVII C, G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B, G).
Turner produced a second Liber design, showing the town of Thun and the lake in calm weather, at about the same time, although the plate was not published until 1816 (for drawing see Tate D08160; Turner Bequest CXVIII F).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.342 no.373, reproduced p.97 pl.96 (colour).
Brooke 1885, p.55.
Ibid., p.54.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.236.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.30–9; 1906, pp.37–48; Finberg 1924, pp.45–64.
Technical Notes:
There are pencil outlines for foreground details such as the figures and cartwheel; fine watercolour brushstrokes follow the pencil lines untypically closely. Scratching-out is also evident over the washes and brushwork. The overall warm brown colour comprises three or four brown pigments.1 The lightning has been washed and scratched out. As Gillian Forrester notes, the mezzotint work in the subsequent engraving was exploited to produce the ‘brilliant lights’2 in the sky and the reflections on the waves; a further highlight was introduced to pick out the sail, lit by the flash against the dark mountain to the left.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.
Forrester 1996, p.62.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘3’ top right, ‘4’ [circled] centre, ‘15’ bottom left, ‘<25>’ and ‘Lake of Thun’ bottom centre, and ‘CXVI. R’ and ‘D08119’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – R’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2009

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Lake of Thun c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2009, 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-lake-of-thun-r1131721, accessed 23 June 2024.