Lot 12
  • 12

Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A. 1775-1851

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
916,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
  • The Lake of Thun, Switzerland
  • watercolour over pencil with scratching out, stopping out, heightened with white and with gum arabic


Walter Fawkes, Farnley Hall;
By descent to Walter Ramsden Fawkes;
Walter Ramsden Fawkes, his sale Christie's London, 2nd July 1937, lot 41 (bt. £619.10 Fine Art Society, London);
N.D. Newall, The Newall Collection, Christie's London 13th December 1979, lot 74 (£82,500);
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's New York, 13th February 1985, lot 11;
Leger Galleries, (by 1986);
Anonymous Sale, Christie's London, 8th July 1997, lot 33;
Anonymous Sale, Gallery Kornfeld, 17 June 2005, lot 142;
With Richard Green Ltd


London, Grosvenor Place, Exhibition of Watercolours in the Collection of Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, 1819, no. 26;
London, Royal Academy, Works by Old Masters and Deceased Masters of the British School, 1974, no. 68;
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, Coronation Exhibition, 1953, no. 26;
London, Royal Academy, Turner 1775-1851, 1974-5, no.68;
London, Tate Gallery, Turner in the Alps 1802, 1999, p. 168. no. 60 


The Farnley Hall Collection of Turner Drawings in the Possession of FH Hawkes, Esq., 1864, no. 32;
Sir W Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p.280;
A.J. Finberg, Turner's Water-Colours at Farnely Hall, 1912, p.22 no.14;
C. Mauclair, Turner, 1939, p.66;
J. Russell and A Wilton, Turner in Switzerland, 1976, pp. 14, 54, 58;
A. Wilton, The Life and Works of JMW Turner, 1976, p. 342 no. 373, pl.96;
C. Hartley, Turner's Watercolours in the Whitworth Art Gallery, 1984, p.37 no. 27;
D. Hill, Turner in the Alps; The Tour through France and Switzerland, 1992, p. 110-1, 112;
D. Posnett, Leger, A Century of Art Dealing 1892-1992, 1992, p. 137;
G. Forrester, Turner's 'Drawing Book': The Liber Studiorum, 1996, p. 62, no. 15


J.M.W. Turner, etching, and Charles Turner, engraving, for Turner's Liber Studiorum, part 3, no. 15, 10 June 1808.

Catalogue Note

In this powerful and dramatic landscape the impenetrable and austere Alpine mountains of the Neisen on the left and the Stockhorn on the right, set the stage for a thunder and lightning storm which vents its fury over the Lake of Thun.

In the near foreground men are gathered at the edge of the lake. On the right three men load heavy cargo onto a wagon whilst two other men, dressed as soldiers, intensely discuss the weapons they have with them. On the left, two men struggle to resurrect a wheeled cart which has collapsed and discarded its load. Emphasising the importance of this particular moment, each man is engrossed on the task at hand whilst a boat is blown along on the choppy waters of the lake, infusing the scene with a sense of urgency.

This watercolour is based on sketches made during Turner's first visit to the Swiss Alps in 1802.[i]  One of Turner's initial thoughts on visiting the continent along with many other Englishmen of means may have been to 'visit the scenes of revolutionary horrors and eventful changes that had taken place in the interim...'[ii] However, what had made an indelible impression upon Turner were the 'very fine Thunder Storms,' which he reported to Joseph Farington.[iii]  Furthermore, what had also struck the somewhat compassionate Turner was that Switzerland was 'in a very troubled state.'[iv]  By 1804 the approximate date of this watercolour, the Peace of Amiens had broken down and the French were once more bringing turbulence to Europe. It is perhaps no surprise that this news might have inspired Turner to return to the landscape where he had witnessed the natural storms.

However, as A.G.H Bachrach first suggested, there may be deliberate connotations within this scene which Turner is highlighting.[v] The intense activity of the Swiss in this scene, may be seen as a deliberate juxtaposition to the apparent British complacency in the face of the Napoleonic threat in 1804. Indeed, the patron of this watercolour Walter Fawkes was particularly concerned about this, and had set up the Wharfedale Volunteers in 1803 from his own tenantry and neighbours.

Walter Fawkes was not only interested in politics but also the acquisition of Swiss views. Fawkes had not only visited and drawn the mountains himself on a Grand Tour in 1790, but also acquired views by other artists. This may explain his apparent appreciation of Turner's unprecedented mastery of this subject (he was to collect over twenty of Turner's Swiss landscapes).

As this watercolour clearly demonstrates, the young Turner had abandoned the academic 'protocols' for watercolour painting expounded upon by Edward Dayes amongst others.[vi] Instead, Turner was acutely aware of the competitive arena of the commercial art market where conventional art production did not reliably lead to patronage. John Robert Cozens (1752-1797) had depicted the Alps as repositories of sublimity, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) had also used eye catching storms to arrest attention, but Turner achieves a statement of both sublime and dramatic grandeur with possible connotations of relevant contemporary narrative, which in the watercolour medium was without parallel.

Furthermore, the sympathetic response which these struggling figures engender, appearing both caught literally in a thunder storm and metaphorically in the Napoleonic wars, illustrates Turner's gradual formulation of a Romantic notion of landscape. Dramatic and arresting geological and meteorological landscapes are now populated with participants animated with "character." Character becomes for Turner a potent aesthetic ingredient or stimulus in a landscape in order to engender an emotional or active reponse previously considered possible only in history painting, but which may also be apparent in the characters within other scenes in this sale.

As one journalist on viewing Fawkes' collection of Turner watercolours, attempted to explain; "his effects are exquisitely tender, but not without sufficient force, from a certain magic arrangement, a graphic secret of his own; or rather from a correct and highly wrought sensibility."[v]

[i] Turner drew numerous sketches in the 'Lake Thun Sketchbook' (TB LXXVI) but it is pages 60-61 which illustrate this viewpoint with storm clouds overhead, though the details of figures and shipping in the foreground differ.

[ii] "Recollections of JMW Turner" by George Jones, published in John Gage, Collected Correspondence of JMW Turner, 1980, pp. 1-10

[iii] As quoted in The Diary of Joseph Farington, ed. K. Garlick and A. Macintyre, V, 1979, p. 1889). The indelible impression that these made upon Turner was also later extensively commented upon by John Ruskin, see Notes by Mr Ruskin on His Collection of Drawings by the late JMW Turner, RA., exhibited at the Fine Art Society's Galleries, London, 1878, pp. 17-18.

[iv]  As quoted in D. Hill, lit.op.cit. 1998, p.20

[v] See James Hamilton, Turner a Life, 1997, p. 91

[vi] See Principles of Composition as Connected with Landscape Painting, 1801, p. 202

[v] London Magazine, 1823, p.219 as quoted in Ian Warrell, Turner the Great Watercolours, 2000, p. 40.