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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Hospice. Great St Bernard with the Lake (I), for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Hospice. Great St Bernard with the Lake (I), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 153
Gouache, pencil and watercolour, approximately 170 x 217 mm on white wove paper, 244 x 304 mm
Inscribed by ?W.R. Smith in pencil ‘1’ to ‘27’ above image and ‘1’ to ‘22’ descending along left-hand edge. Also in pencil evenly spaced marks corresponding to numbers along the top edge and faint ruled lines on all four sides of the vignette
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 153’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette was engraved by W.R. Smith and appears as the head-piece to the fourth section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Great St Bernard’.1 It shows the Hospice of St Bernard, situated at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass, the oldest of the Alpine pass routes. The existence of a hospice on this site dates back to at least the ninth century.2 The monks who ran the establishment provided food and shelter to anyone crossing the pass. They bred the famous St Bernard dogs that were trained to find and retrieve stranded travellers. Turner also produced an end-piece for this section in which he shows two of the dogs resting after having located the body of a young girl, whom two monks are carrying away to the mortuary below (Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie).3
Rogers devotes several pages to a description of his experience at the hospice, which he praises as ‘That plain, that modest structure, promising | Bread to the hungry, to the weary rest.’4 Turner’s illustration provides a clear visual counterpart to the poem’s description of the shelter and its frozen surroundings:
Long could I have stood,
With a religious awe contemplating
That House, the highest in the Ancient World,
And destined to perform from age to age
The noblest service, welcoming as guests
All of all nations and of every faith;
A Temple, sacred to Humanity!
And, just beneath it, in that dreary dale,
If dale it might be called, so near to Heaven,
A little lake, where never fish leaped up,
Lay like a spot of ink amid the snow;
A star, the only one in that small sky,
On its dead surface glimmering.
(Italy, pp.12–13)
Turner himself crossed the St Bernard Pass during his Swiss tour of 1802. Whilst there, he produced several sketches of the hospice, one of which bears particularly close compositional similarities to this vignette (see Tate D04496; Turner Bequest LXXIV 4). Two other sketches show the hospice from a distance, surrounded by heavy snow drifts and majestic rising mountains (see Tate D04548, D04554; Turner Bequest LXXIV 55, 61). Following his return to England, Turner produced a colour study of the hospice, possibly as an experimental composition for the set of Swiss subjects that he made for Walter Fawkes in 1806–9 (see Tate D25317; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 195).5 This study bears little direct resemblance to the vignette composition for Italy, and it seems unlikely that the two are related.6
Several changes were made to this design during the engraving process. Most obviously, perhaps the St Bernard dog in the foreground was eliminated in the finished print, leaving only the monk and dog in the middle distance to provide some activity in an otherwise barren landscape. In the engraving, the Alpine setting has also been more dramatically rendered: the frozen lake in the foreground is darker and Turner’s sketchy mountains and blank sky have been filled in with fine details. It was common for Turner to provide only the vaguest indication of sky and background scenery in his watercolour drawings for Italy. However, his many annotations on the various trial proofs indicate that he nonetheless controlled the appearance of these details in the published versions.7
Cecilia Powell has noted that faint pencil lines drawn around the vignettes were made by the engravers during the process of squaring-up the designs for reduction.8 The inscribed numbers along the edges would also have been part of this exercise.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.11; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. vol.II, London 1913, no.351. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04635 and T04636).
Hill 1992, p.84.
Wilton 1979, no.1156; engraved by W.R. Smith, see Rawlinson 1913, no.352. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04637 and T04638).
Rogers 1830, p.16.
Russell and Wilton 1976, p.53.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.13 note 86. For more information about Turner’s involvement in the engraving process and examples of his annotated proofs, see Eric M. Lee, Translations: Turner and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1993.
Powell 1983, p.10.
Technical notes:
The paper bears a watermark ‘J Whatman / Turkey Mill / 1826’.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘4’ top left and ‘NG’ along top and ‘6[?b]’ centre right and ‘CCLXXX.153’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 153’ centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘The Hospice. Great St Bernard with the Lake (I), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, 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-the-hospice-great-st-bernard-with-the-lake-i-for-rogerss-r1133296, accessed 30 May 2024.