Lot 82
  • 82

Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A.
  • Switzerland: Possibly Lake Thun
  • Watercolor with pen and ink over traces of pencil


Mrs Booth (1798-1875);
John Heugh;
with Agnew’s, Liverpool, by 1871,
by whom sold, 6 May 1871, to Ralph Brocklebank (1803-1892) of Childwall Hall, near Liverpool, £150,
his executor's sale, London, Christie's, 29 April 1893, lot 25 or 26; bt. Agnew's, on behalf of Canon Ralph Brocklebank (1840-1921) of Haughton Hall, Cheshire,
by direct family descent to the present owner


London, Guildhall, Loan Exhibition of Works by J.M.W. Turner R.A. and a Selection of Examples by some of his Contemporaries, April - July 1899, no. 142 (as an Italian Sketch)


Catalogue of the Loan Exhibition of Works by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. and a Selection of Examples by some of his Contemporaries, London 1899, p. 105 (as an Italian Sketch);
Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, London 1902 p. 259 (as an Italian landscape);
R. Radcliffe Carter, Pictures and Engravings at Haugthon Hall Tarporley in the Possession of Ralph Brocklebank, London 1904, pp. xi, and 89, no. 80 (as an Italian lake scene);
C. Powell, ‘Turner and The Lake of Zug: Two Colour Sketches Rediscovered’, Turner Society News, Spring 2016, pp. 3-7, fig. 2 (as Sketch for Lake Zug showing the Rossberg over the lake);
to be included in Ian Warrell's forthcoming publication about Turner's late Swiss tours


Support Turner has used a sheet of wove-type paper, which is in a very good condition and inlaid into a thin card for full display in the mount. The verso has some small remains of glue in places. Medium The medium is also in a good condition, but typically a little fading is evident as it would have been glazed for many years. There are two small pigment losses at the foot, towards the right and the pigment is a little rubbed in this area. Note: The work was viewed outside studio conditions. Jane McAusland London office: Flat 3, 41 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1F 9AJ Accredited Conservator Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Jane McAusland Limited trading as Jane McAusland FIIC Registered in England & Wales No.4330838 Registered VAT No. 236 3828 52
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This landscape and that of the following lot are remarkable watercolors that are not only full of spontaneity and energy but reveal Turner exploring nature through the media of light and color. As well as being works of great rarity, neither has been exhibited publicly since the late 19th century and they have remained within the same distinguished family collection since May 1871. Their arrival on the market today is therefore a truly exceptional event.

Both sheets date to the first half of the 1840s and see Turner returning to his beloved Switzerland. That country, described by one of Turner’s contemporaries as the ‘noblest of all earthly regions,’1 had enchanted him since his first visit in 1802 and it was to continue to act as a powerful magnet once he had reached his sixties. 

Between 1841 and 1844 Turner made four extensive journeys to the heart of the Alps. Despite his advancing years, his enthusiasm for the spectacular scenery, the fresh air and the unique quality of light was unquenchable and during those summers, he continued to indulge in his lifelong passion for exploring Switzerland’s network of mountains and lakes. The drawings and watercolors that he produced while there and the work that resulted from these tours, are often considered to represent the very pinnacle of the artist’s achievement in the medium of watercolor. 

Scholars’ opinions as to the exact topographical locations represented in the present two sheets have shifted over time. For many years they were regarded as Italian lake scenes. In the spring of 2016, Dr Cecilia Powell suggested they depicted Lake Zug and were connected with Turner’s The Lake of Zug: Early Morning, a ‘finished’ watercolor that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.2 More recently still, Ian Warrell has provided evidence that identifies the views as depictions of the Lake Thun area, a theory that Dr Powell also accepts. Ian Warrell will be expanding his findings in his forthcoming book. 

By the time Turner came to paint the present watercolors, he had developed an extraordinarily rapid and varied technique. This enabled him to capture the vast space he saw before him, not by virtue of solid boundaries so much as through the distinctive effects of light and color. As well as mountains, water and humanlife, he strove to capture the very ‘spirit of the place’3 and, in 1844, he went as far as to explain to Ruskin that ‘atmosphere is my style.’4 At first, Ruskin was unsure of Turner’s impressions from nature but, in time, he grew to thoroughly admire them, noting that he looked ‘upon them as, in some respects, more valuable than his finished drawings, or his oil pictures, because they are the simple records of his first impressions and first purpose, and in most instances as true to the character of the places they represent as they are admirable in composition.’5 

The present two watercolors have a full and fascinating provenance. It seems that they were part of a group of works that can be traced back to Mrs Sophia Booth, Turner's devoted housekeeper and companion.  They are subsequently recorded as being with John Heugh, a highly successful merchant with links to Manchester, who amassed a great collection of British 19th century art between circa 1845 and his death in 1878. Among the many highlights of his extensive collection were William Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat, Millais’s The Vale of Rest,6 and nine oil paintings by Turner.7                    

In 1871, Heugh consigned the watercolors to Agnew’s, Liverpool and on the 6th May the pair were acquired, for £300, by Ralph Brocklebank of Childwall Hall, near Liverpool.8 Brocklebank was the scion of an important shipping family and rose to become chairman of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. He owned a number of other Turner watercolors as well as works by the likes of Cox, De Wint, Copley Fielding and Landseer.9 Following his death in 1892, Brocklebank’s executors arranged for his collection to be sold at Christie’s in April of the following year. The two present works appeared as lots 25 and 26 and were acquired, through Agnew’s, by the deceased’s son, Ralph Brocklebank (1840-1921). He lived at Haughton Hall, Cheshire and was yet another major figure in the art world in his time. His particular interests lay with both the European Old Masters and the 19th century British school. On top of acquiring work by, amongst others, Cotman, Lewis, Martin and Ruskin, he also owned over twenty watercolors by Turner. These included Pembroke Castle, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 and Lake Constance, one of the great Swiss landscapes from the 1840s (now at York Art Gallery). He also owned four Turner oil paintings, namely Somer hill, near Tunbridge, The Bright Stone of Honour (Ehrenbreitstein), The Grand Canal, Venice, and The Beacon Light.10 As well as being a great collector, he also, over his lifetime, lent over ninety works to major exhibitions in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. In 1899, he loaned Switzerland: Possibly Lake Thun (the present lot) to an important exhibition at London's Guildhall, along with four more of his works by Turner. 

Although following his death in 1921 much of his collection was sold at Christie’s,11 the present works were not included in that sale and they have remained with his descendants until the present day. We are grateful to Ian Warrell, Dr Cecilia Powell and Peter Bower for their help when cataloguing these works.

1. I. Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, London 1995, p. 147

2. C. Powell, ‘Turner and The Lake of Zug: Two Colour Sketches Rediscovered’, Turner Society News, Spring 2016, pp. 3-7

3. A. Concannon in D. Blayney Brown, A. Concannon & S. Smiles, Late Turner – Painting Set Free, London 2014, p. 224

4. I. Warrell, Through Switzerland with Turner, London 1995, p. 61

5. E.T. Cook and A Wedderburn, The Works of John Ruskin, London 1904, vol. XII, p. 189

6. D.S. Macleod, Art and the Victorian middle class, money and the making of cultural identity, Cambridge 1996, p. 429

7. M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven 1984, nos. 6, 46, 101, 237, 345, 350, 362, 533; 553

8. Agnew’s Stockbook (NGA27/1/2/4), nos. 696 and 697

9. Crichton Castle (Wilton, no. 1059), The Avalanche and Old Mill and Rocks

10. M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, Yale 1984, nos. 116, 361, 368 and 474

11. London, Christie’s, 7 July 1922