Until recently the subject of this watercolour had been unknown. However Ian Warrell has now been able positively to identify the view as the city of Aosta in the Italian Alps. Turner depicts the scene from the south side of the River Baltea. To the right, the Pont Suza leads the eye across the water, while the mountains behind, captured in myriad colours, shield the entrance to the Great St. Bernard Pass.
The watercolour dates from Turner’s 1836 tour of the Continent, a year in which he travelled for a time with his great patron Hugh Munro of Novar (1787-1864). The pair travelled extensively, journeying through France to Geneva, exploring the valley of the Arve and the Mont Blanc region. When they reached Courmayeur, they dropped down into the beautiful Val D’Aosta and stopped for a few days in the city of Aosta. Shortly afterwards they left the Alps, passing through Ivrea, and parted company in Turin.
In the 19th
Century, Aosta was celebrated for its antiquity and beautiful situation and Turner did not miss the opportunity to record it from a number of different viewpoints. There are six pencil studies in his Ford Bard Sketchbook,1
some of which closely relate to the present work, while a further two drawings are held in Tate Britain.2
In addition to this, there is a watercolour, painted slightly from the right of the present view, in a private collection.3
The subtle colour range that Turner has employed in the present work is typical of his palette during this particular Alpine tour.
When writing about Turner's late Swiss watercolours, John Ruskin noted that 'I look upon them as in some respects more valuable than his finished drawings, or his oil pictures, because they are the simple records of his first impressions and first purposes, and in most instances as true to the character of the places they represent as they are admirable in composition.’4
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in cataloguing this lot.
1. Tate, Britain CCXCIV 63, 64a, 65a, 66, 67, 85a
2. Tate, Britain CCCXLIV 404 & 394
3. A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no. 1510
4. E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London 1904, vol. XIII, pp. 189-190