Lot 140
  • 140

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.
  • watercolour, pen and red ink on paper
  • 24.8 by 36.7cm., 9 3/4 by 14 1/2 in.
  • Executed circa 1848.


J.B. MacGeorge (sale: Morrison McLearly, Glasgow, 16th May 1958, lot 86)
The Fine Art Society, London
Agnew's, London
Acquired from the above by the late owner in November 1978


Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Victor Hugo and The Romantic Vision, Drawings and Watercolours, 1991, no. 42  
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Linie, Licht und Schatten. Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 1999, no. 62
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Timeless Eye. Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, 1999, no. 98
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin Tiempo. Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Coleccion Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2000, no. 88
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Passion du dessin. Collection Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2002, no. 79 
Vienna, Albertina Museum, Goya bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2005, no. 36
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no. 75, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg, 1979, no. 1564, illustrated p. 488
Dix ans d'Activité (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva, no. 3, illustrated in colour


In general, this rare, late watercolour has survived in good condition. Although some of more delicate pigments may have faded very slightly, many remain bright and fresh. The paper has yellowed a little with time and at the extreme edges of the sheet old mount-lines are visible. There are a small number of very minor paper losses at the extreme edge of the sheet, but these can only be seen on close inspection. The sheet has been re-enforced with a secondary support. For further information on this work, please contact Mark Griffith-Jones on 0207 293 5083 or mark.griffithjones@sothebys.com For further information on this work, please contact Mark Griffith-Jones on 0207 293 5083 or mark.griffithjones@sothebys.com
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This spectacular late work dates to circa 1848 and belongs to the celebrated group of watercolours that Turner created as a result of his final annual tours to Switzerland between 1841 and 1844. Until recently the precise location of the view had not been known, however Professor David Hill of Leeds University has suggested that the watercolour actually shows Lake Lungernsee, which lies on the Brunig Pass route from Lucerne to the Haslithal and Brienz. Turner made that crossing in 1844 and was inspired to return to a favoured theme – the dramatic Alpine scenery.

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).