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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Lake Thun sketchbook 1802

Turner Bequest LXXVI
Upright sketchbook, bound in modern boards covered in brown cloth with brown leather spine and corners
75 leaves of white laid writing paper, made on a single faced mould
Approximate page size 201 x 156 mm
Made by Samuel Emanuel Gruner, Berne, and watermarked with ornamental monogram and countermarked ‘S E GRUNER’
This sketchbook was used during Turner’s first continental tour in 1802 (see Introduction, Sketchbooks from the Tour to Switzerland 1802). He probably bought it in Berne, to judge from its papermaker and the fact that the identifiable subjects in it begin there. It was then used to document the later stages of his itinerary, from Thun along the lake to Unterseen, Interlaken and the Bernese Alps, to Meiringen, Lucerne, the Reuss valley and St Gotthard Pass, Zurich, Baden and Schaffhausen, and concluding at Schloss Küssaberg, near Lauchringen and Laufenburg on the Rhine. Scenes on Lake Brienz or at Grindelwald dovetail with others in the Rhine, Strassburg and Oxford sketchbook (Tate D04736–D04796; D40791–D40794; Turner Bequest LXXVIII).
As it stands today, the book is a modern rebinding – not in the original order – of one broken up by Ruskin. The original binding, and any documentation that went with it, have not survived; nor has the original sequence of contents which Ruskin destroyed when breaking up the book and by numbering some of the leaves in red ink according to unspecified systems of his own. The circumstances, as far as they were known, were recorded by Finberg:
The majority of the leaves of this book were done up in two parcels, with the following notes by Mr Ruskin written on their wrappers. On the 1st: – “Detached leaves of the book from which the study for the lake of Thun in Liber Studiorum was taken. Of great value and interest. (J.R., 1858).” Below was added: – “Their ‘value and interest’ however consists merely in their belonging to the classical period of the Liber; and showing on how little he depended for reminiscence of scenery at that time (J.R., 1878).” On the 2nd parcel: – “45. Pencil on white. Leaves of the book of Lake Thun, Liber Studies. Very interesting for distribution.” Fifty-nine of the pages were found to have been numbered by Mr Ruskin. These have been placed as arranged, the various unnumbered pages which have been found to belong to this book being placed after them. The cover of the book has not been found.’
Although Turner bought the book in Berne, it contains only one possible view of the city, perhaps of the Kramgasse and its clock tower, folio 65 verso (D04725). Similarly, it contains his only view of Zurich drawn in 1802, folio 11 (D04660). Discomfort, expense and an air of instability during the precarious Peace of Amiens may have bred dislike or suspicion of the cities. The evidence is that he was more attracted to smaller, picturesque places like the resort of Baden, for example folios 10 and 15 verso (D04658, D04668), but moved on as quickly as he could to the lakes, the mountainous scenery around Grindelwald or the Reuss valley and the St Gotthard. These are his main concerns in this book. Ruskin’s emphasis on the Thun subjects did not do justice to its contents even in relation to the Liber Studiorum. Of the four or perhaps five original sources of Liber plates, only two depict Thun. Folio 48 (D04705) was developed for Ville de Thun and folio 60 (D04717) for Lake of Thun, but folio 62 (D04719) was used for Mt St Gothard and folios 72 and 73 (D04732, D04733) for Little Devil’s Bridge while folio 25 verso (D04681) may have helped form his ideas for Lauffenbourgh on the Rhine. Ruskin had four leaves, depicting Thun and the St Gotthard, exhibited at the National Gallery, reflecting his interest in their connection with the Liber, and others of Altdorf and Schaffhausen were shown at Oxford, but these limited selections hardly justify the separation and reordering of the whole book in a way which significantly damaged its value as ‘reminiscence of scenery’.
As well as Liber subjects, the book provided the sources, on folios 41 and 60 (D04698, D04717), for two important watercolours made for Walter Fawkes, Lake of Lucerne, from the Landing Place at Fluelen, Looking Towards Bauen and Tell’s Chapel, Switzerland1 and Lake of Thun2 (both recently on the London art market)3 as well as for other coloured studies. Looking through the pages of the book in his studio and finding scenery for these watercolours, Turner must have remembered using it during the two big trips he made by water during his 1802 tour, on Lake Thun from the town of Thun to Unterseen and on Lake Lucerne from Lucerne to Altdorf on his way to the St Gotthard Pass. During the latter trip he saw that sacred site of Swiss liberty, the chapel built in 1388 on the site where William Tell sprang to freedom from his oppressor, Gessler (folios 70 and 71, D04730, D04731). Memories of stormy weather, especially by the waters of Thun, and of the French occupation and Swiss resistance were also worked into his watercolours for Fawkes. The St Gotthard, like Lake Lucerne, had been the site of recent fighting. Also of particular interest, on folio 8 (D04656), is Turner’s first drawing of the Rigi mountain, a favourite and famous subject for him forty years later.
Many of the sketches are extremely slight, thumbnail jottings and some remain unidentified. But there are also several more developed drawings, which must have been elaborated after the initial sketch was made on the spot. Two sketches, both very summary, are in ink; the rest are in pencil.
Wilton 1979, p.342 no.378.
Ibid., p.342 no.373.
Sotheby’s sale, 4 July 2007.

David Blayney Brown
October 2009

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How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Lake Thun sketchbook 1802’, sketchbook, October 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/lake-thun-sketchbook-r1133123, accessed 24 May 2024.