Both sheets date to the first half of the 1840s and see Turner returning to his beloved Switzerland. That country, described by one of Turner’s contemporaries as the ‘noblest of all earthly regions,’1 had enchanted him since his first visit in 1802 and it was to continue to act as a powerful magnet once he had reached his sixties.
Between 1841 and 1844 Turner made four extensive journeys to the heart of the Alps. Despite his advancing years, his enthusiasm for the spectacular scenery, the fresh air and the unique quality of light was unquenchable and during those summers, he continued to indulge in his lifelong passion for exploring Switzerland’s network of mountains and lakes. The drawings and watercolors that he produced while there and the work that resulted from these tours, are often considered to represent the very pinnacle of the artist’s achievement in the medium of watercolor.
Scholars’ opinions as to the exact topographical locations represented in the present two sheets have shifted over time. For many years they were regarded as Italian lake scenes. In the spring of 2016, Dr Cecilia Powell suggested they depicted Lake Zug and were connected with Turner’s The Lake of Zug: Early Morning, a ‘finished’ watercolor that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.2 More recently still, Ian Warrell has provided evidence that identifies the views as depictions of the Lake Thun area, a theory that Dr Powell also accepts. Ian Warrell will be expanding his findings in his forthcoming book.
By the time Turner came to paint the present watercolors, he had developed an extraordinarily rapid and varied technique. This enabled him to capture the vast space he saw before him, not by virtue of solid boundaries so much as through the distinctive effects of light and color. As well as mountains, water and humanlife, he strove to capture the very ‘spirit of the place’3 and, in 1844, he went as far as to explain to Ruskin that ‘atmosphere is my style.’4 At first, Ruskin was unsure of Turner’s impressions from nature but, in time, he grew to thoroughly admire them, noting that he looked ‘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 purpose, and in most instances as true to the character of the places they represent as they are admirable in composition.’5
The present two watercolors have a full and fascinating provenance. It seems that they were part of a group of works that can be traced back to Mrs Sophia Booth, Turner's devoted housekeeper and companion. They are subsequently recorded as being with John Heugh, a highly successful merchant with links to Manchester, who amassed a great collection of British 19th century art between circa 1845 and his death in 1878. Among the many highlights of his extensive collection were William Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat, Millais’s The Vale of Rest,6 and nine oil paintings by Turner.7
In 1871, Heugh consigned the watercolors to Agnew’s, Liverpool and on the 6th May the pair were acquired, for £300, by Ralph Brocklebank of Childwall Hall, near Liverpool.8 Brocklebank was the scion of an important shipping family and rose to become chairman of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. He owned a number of other Turner watercolors as well as works by the likes of Cox, De Wint, Copley Fielding and Landseer.9 Following his death in 1892, Brocklebank’s executors arranged for his collection to be sold at Christie’s in April of the following year. The two present works appeared as lots 25 and 26 and were acquired, through Agnew’s, by the deceased’s son, Ralph Brocklebank (1840-1921). He lived at Haughton Hall, Cheshire and was yet another major figure in the art world in his time. His particular interests lay with both the European Old Masters and the 19th century British school. On top of acquiring work by, amongst others, Cotman, Lewis, Martin and Ruskin, he also owned over twenty watercolors by Turner. These included Pembroke Castle, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 and Lake Constance, one of the great Swiss landscapes from the 1840s (now at York Art Gallery). He also owned four Turner oil paintings, namely Somer hill, near Tunbridge, The Bright Stone of Honour (Ehrenbreitstein), The Grand Canal, Venice, and The Beacon Light.10 As well as being a great collector, he also, over his lifetime, lent over ninety works to major exhibitions in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. In 1899, he loaned Switzerland: Possibly Lake Thun (the present lot) to an important exhibition at London's Guildhall, along with four more of his works by Turner.
Although following his death in 1921 much of his collection was sold at Christie’s,11 the present works were not included in that sale and they have remained with his descendants until the present day. We are grateful to Ian Warrell, Dr Cecilia Powell and Peter Bower for their help when cataloguing these works.
1. I. Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, London 1995, p. 147
2. C. Powell, ‘Turner and The Lake of Zug: Two Colour Sketches Rediscovered’, Turner Society News, Spring 2016, pp. 3-7
3. A. Concannon in D. Blayney Brown, A. Concannon & S. Smiles, Late Turner – Painting Set Free, London 2014, p. 224
4. I. Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, London 1995, p. 61
5. E.T. Cook and A Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London 1904, vol. XII, p. 189
6. D.S. Macleod, Art and the Victorian middle class, money and the making of cultural identity, Cambridge 1996, p. 429
7. M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven 1984, nos. 6, 46, 101, 237, 345, 350, 362, 533; 553
8. Agnew’s Stockbook (NGA27/1/2/4), nos. 696 and 697
9. Crichton Castle (Wilton, no. 1059), The Avalanche and Old Mill and Rocks
10. M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, Yale 1984, nos. 116, 361, 368 and 474
11. London, Christie’s, 7 July 1922
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