One of JMW Turner’s most celebrated and important watercolours still held by a private collector is to be offered at auction by Sotheby’s this July. Commissioned in 1842, The Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen is part of a celebrated group of 25 ‘finished’ Swiss landscapes that Turner made during the final decade of his life, an iconic body of work that is widely considered the pinnacle of the artist’s achievements in the medium.
Offered with an estimate of £1,200,000–1,800,000, the work will be the highlight of the Old Master & British Works on Paper sale in London on 4 July having remained in the same distinguished private collection since 1968. It was last seen in public at the seminal Turner - The Great Watercolours exhibition at London’s Royal Academy in 2001.
Works from Turner’s ‘late’ Swiss series have come to be seen as the ‘climax of a lifetime devoted to the expression of light and colour’ with only five of the 25 works now remaining outside of museum collections.
This particular example depicts one of the most dramatic landscapes in the Swiss Alps, capturing the view over the picturesque village of Brunnen on the eastern shores of Lake Lucerne, with the magnificent vista of the Bay of Uri unfolding before the viewer’s eyes. Turner has perfectly captured the complex effects of the early morning light and haze filling the huge sky with a golden light which floods the mountain uplands with warmth, while the deep blue waters of the lake rise up in weightless mists, giving the impression that the plunging cliffs and lake melt seamlessly together.
Highlighting the area’s historical significance, on the left bank, far off in the distance, Turner indicates the position of the 14th century Tell Chapel, where the legendary William Tell reputedly leapt to freedom, escaping his tyrannical Austrian overlords. On the right, high above the lake, Turner gives great prominence to the meadow of Rütli, a site that witnessed the birth of Swiss democracy in 1291.
Inspired by Turner’s travels to the region between 1841 and 1844, the work was commissioned by Turner’s great patron, the whaling magnate Elhanan Bicknell, to hang as a companion piece to the iconic Blue Rigi – one of three views of the Rigi mountains painted by the artist which now hangs in London’s Tate Britain having been sold for a record-breaking £5,832,000 in 2006.