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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ville de Thun c.1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ville de Thun circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVIII F
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 182 x 264 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Thomas Hodgetts, ‘Ville de Thun; – Switzerland.’, published Turner, 1 January 1816
Turner’s Liber Studiorum design shows the town of Thun, Switzerland, looking north from the west bank of the Thunersee, closely following a pencil study in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04705; Turner Bequest LXXVI 48), from his first Continental tour of 1802; in the foreground, the few vertical strokes and single seated figure of the sketch have been developed into a more substantial landing stage, with figures, barrels, and the shallow boats seen in many of Turner’s Swiss drawings. The vertical proportions of the tower of the medieval castle at the centre of the composition have been exaggerated, and Turner has further departed from reality in showing the turrets springing from the upper level of the keep instead of forming rounded corners for its full height. There are other studies of the town from the 1802 visit, showing the proportions of the castle more accurately (Tate D04654; Turner Bequest LXXVI 6).
Ruskin disliked the design, 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 A late watercolour of about 1844 shows the town from a similar angle, though with the lake occupying most of the foreground, in dramatically stormy light (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, D NG 866);2 however, the calm, rather prosaic conditions of the Liber version may have been intended as a contrast to another design of around the same date (though published much earlier, in 1808), Lake of Thun, showing a lightning storm (Tate D08119; Turner Bequest CXVI R).
The composition is recorded, as ‘Thun’, in a list of ‘Architecture’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12168; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 29a).3
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Thomas Hodgetts, bears the publication date 1 January 1816 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Ville de Thun; – Switzerland.’ in part 12 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.57–61;4 see also Tate D08158, D08159, D08161, D08162; Turner Bequest CXVIII D, H, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, G). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01123) and the published engraving (A01124). It is one of eleven published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Architectural’ category (see also Tate D08110, D08115, D08118, D08126, D08131, D08135, D08142, D08154, D08157; Turner Bequest CXVI I, N, Q, Y, CXVII D, H, O, Z, CXVIII C).
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.235–6.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.480 no.1504, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.116–25; 1906, pp.137–47; Finberg 1924, pp.225–44.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘1794 | J Whatman’.1 There is some very faint pencil sketching around the figures, and loosely looping around the treetops on the left. Lights were reserved for the buildings and distant mountains. Washes were followed by brushwork, with wet brushstrokes in the foreground. There is very little scratching-out, but some washing-out. The overall mid-brown colour comprises a burnt sienna pigment.2
Forrester 1996, p.121 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); lack of brackets around watermark as cited in Forrester’s text implies it is visible in the sheet, but if so it is not readily apparent.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘F 59’ centre, and ‘D.08160’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVIII – F’ bottom left
Thin tape and the residue of former mounting are evident all round the edges of the sheet.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Ville de Thun 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-ville-de-thun-r1131763, accessed 20 June 2024.