Turner presents the viewer with an ethereal landscape drenched in a molten kaleidoscope of colour. To the left, right and in the distance, steep-sided mountains rise up to great altitudes, their flanks and peaks bathed in reds, yellows, oranges and violets. Above, Turner indicates a clear blue sky with watery flicks of his brush. In the foreground lies a deep lake, composed of cool greens, greys and blues. These still waters create a mirror image of their surroundings, picking up the mountains and, to the left, the white tower of a village church. Lastly, to the right, two figures can be seen ambling along a road, while a third leans over a stone wall, gazing at the water below.
Technically the watercolour is notable for its expressive freedom and virtuoso application of materials. Turner reinforces his initial, rapidly applied sweeping blocks of pure colour with tiny brushstrokes. These not only add weight to the composition, but also allow him to highlight particular geographical features, such as dense pine forests or prominent rock formations. Turner reveals further details through his extensive use of pen and red ink, which he has applied with great confidence and control.
Furthermore he has scratched out parts of the surface with his thumb or a blade of a knife and, while the watercolour was still wet, he used a soft rag to remove small areas of pigment. Turner had pioneered techniques such as these earlier in his career and they allowed him not only to indicate different surfaces and atmospheres, but in the present case also to heighten the tactile nature of the work in general.
Turner never intended this watercolour to be seen as a ‘finished work’. Instead, he created it, as a ‘sample study,’ in order to entice collectors into commissioning a final work from him. Thomas Griffith, Turner’s agent, organised approaches to loyal patrons such as Benjamin Godfrey Windus, John Ruskin, Hugh Munro of Novar and Elhanan Bicknell. Ruskin, the young student who, after meeting Turner in 1840, became his ardent champion, recalled being shown fifteen sample sketches, while Windus appears to have been shown twenty. Although, no ‘finished watercolour’ of this subject has survived, Andrew Wilton has connected this work to another of Turner’s studies: Lake with Hills, possibly Lake Brienz, which has been dated to circa 1848-50 and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (fig.1) (Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg, 1979, p. 488, no. 1563).
Watercolours such as the present work remain a lasting testimony to Turner’s love of Switzerland and it is perhaps no surprise that, though once considered revolutionary as mere impressions of landscape views, they are now highly prized. By studying works such as this, it may be possible to comprehend the art critic for The Spectator, who in May 1840, described Turner's works as ‘gorgeous explosions of light’ (Ian Warrell (Ed), J.M.W. Turner, London, 2008, p. 203).
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