Lot 38
  • 38

Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A. 1775-1851

bidding is closed


  • Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
  • Lake of Lucerne, from the landing place at Fluelen, looking towards Bauen and Tell's Chapel, Switzerland
  • signed with initials lower right on barrel: JMWT
  • Watercolour with scratching out, and gum arabic, in contemporary frame


Walter Fawkes;
By descent to Revd. Ayscough Fawkes, his sale at Christie's, 27th June 1890, lot 57 (bt. Agnew);
Sir Donald Currie, G.C.M.G.;
Major F.D. Mirrielees, his sale at Christie's, 20th March 1959, lot 55;
Lord Wharton 


Royal Academy, The Inner Room, 1815, no. 316;
Grosvenor Place, Exhibition of Watercolours in the Collection of Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, 1819, no. 3;
Leeds, Music Hall, Exhibition of Watercolours from Fawkes Collection, 1839, no. 25;
Royal Academy, 1886, no. 35;
York City Art Gallery, Turner in Yorkshire, 1980, no. 82


Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 264;
E.T. Cook, Ruskin on Pictures: A Collection of Criticism by John Ruskin... 1902, p. 123-4;
The Connoisseur, August, 1960, ill.
A.J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, 1961, p. 219 and 477;
Turner in Switzerland, introduction by John Russell, survey and notes, with a checklist of the finished Swiss watercolours by Andrew Wilton, 1976, p. 135, no. 16
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Works of J.M.W. Turner, 1979, no. 378;
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey Through France and Switzerland in 1802, 1992, illus. p. 133;
Ian Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, 1995, p. 79;
Turner studies, 'Turner in Yorkshire', exhibition review by Evelyn Joll, vol. 1 (1), p. 38, 39;

Catalogue Note

Turners magnificent watercolour of the Lake of Lucerne in Switzerland was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815. In the  composition, he chose to combine the sublime Alpine view with a  peaceful early morning scene of women and children disembarking from boats, unloading blankets, barrels and clothing, as beyond them, other boats approach the shore on the calm lake. Across the water the mountains have just appeared with the dawn and the sun is penetrating the mist on the lake.

Separate from the activity of unloading the boat, and standing on her own, is a girl who appears to be weeping. This must surely be a clue to an episode or a historical context to which Turner was referring, and may indicate recent violent scenes that had happened at Fluelen. For Turner's visit in 1802 was just two years after the intense fighting in the area when in June 1799, the Austrians allied with the local Swiss to expel the French. Two months later Napolean's troops returned across the lake in a flotilla of boats and fought the Austrians who retreated up the valley. The Russians fought their way over from St Gotthard to the lake, but were trapped and after bloody fighting were forced to retreat.

It was Turner's first visit to the Alps in the Summer of 1802 when he drew the sketch he later used as one of the studies for the present work, on page 41 of The Lake Thun sketchbook (T.B.LXXV1). He was able to make this visit because the Treaty of Amiens had brought to an end war with France, albeit as it subsequently turned out it was a short period of peace. At Fluelen, he recorded this harmonious scene with women and children, and the single woman in distress may be an acknowledgement of the recent conflict at this site.

Aged twenty seven and newly elected as a full member of the Royal Academy, Turner for the first time set off across the Continent to the Alps in July 1802. He approached the Alps via Geneva, then travelled through Bonneville to Chamonix, around Mont Blanc to Aosta, back to the east end of Lake Leman, across to Thun, Interlaken, Reichenbach, further north east to Luzern and down the lake to Fluelen, moving on further south as far as Faido. He had returned to Paris by the end of September.

David Hill in Turner in the Alps (see lit.op.cit.) suggests that Turner exhibited this picture at the Royal Academy in 1815 as a pair to Battle of Fort Rock, Val d'Aosta, Piedmont, 1796 (Tate Gallery, see fig. 1). Fort Rock showed a war scene, albeit not a recorded episode in 1796 in contrast to this peaceful view.

It is poignant and indeed ironic that during the planning for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1815, Napolean was returning from Elba, gathering troops. By March 20th he was in Paris, and during the exhibition whilst the English public were examining the present work and Fort Rock in the Inner Room at the Academy, Napolean met his final defeat at Waterloo on 18th June.

The precise date of this watercolour is not known. Based upon sketches of 1802, it was first exhibited in 1815.  Armstrong (see lit. op. cit.) proposes 1805 while Finberg (see lit. op. cit.) allies its date to The Great Fall of Reichenbach (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford) which is dated 1804 and was also exhibited in the Inner Room at the Academy in 1815 (no. 292). Andrew Wilton (see lit. op. cit) suggests 1807, and certainly the scale of the watercolour and the powerful cool colours of the palette supports a date before 1810. However, Evelyn Joll and David Hill were inclined to date it to 1815, the year of the Academy exhibition on the basis of it being purchased by Fawkes in that year.

The ownership of the watercolour is distinguished. During the nineteenth century it was part of the two most important collections of Turner watercolours. Walter Fawkes (d.1825), Turner's most significant patron was the first to own it and David Hill discovered that he bought it in 1815 for 120 guineas, the year of the Academy exhibition. It was then exhibited at his London home in 1819 at the Exhibition of Watercolours from the Collection of Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall.  Of that exhibition one reporter wrote, `Turner is perhaps the first artist in the world in the powerful and brilliant style peculiar to him; no man has ever thrown such masses of colour upon paper; and his finest works have been collected in Mr Fawkes' house.' (see York City Art Gallery Turner in Yorkshire exhibition catalogue 1980, p.55)

It is not known when Turner first met Walter Fawkes but Fawkes, who had travelled in Switzerland in his youth, has been credited with persuading Turner to go to the Alps himself. Certainly Fawkes' first commissions from Turner between 1803 and 1805 were Alpine subjects and he eventually owned nineteen Swiss subjects. From 1808, Turner stayed at Fawkes' home, Farnley Hall in Yorkshire, nearly every summer until Fawkes' death in 1825.

The watercolour remained in the Fawkes family collection until 1890 and it then passed via Agnews into its second major collection, that of Sir Donald Currie (1825-1903). Currie assembled a collection of no less than fifty seven Turner watercolours and fourteen oil paintings. Amongst his watercolours was Heidelberg with a Rainbow, sold by descendents in these rooms on 14th June 2001, lot 11 for a record for a British watercolour of £2,038,500. Lake of Lucerne, the present work, was sold from the collection of Currie's grandson Major F.D. Mirrieless in 1959 for what was then a record price for a watercolour by Turner of £11,000.