Mt St Gothard, 1808
Etching and mezzotint on wove paper
Etched by J.M.W. Turner, Engraved by Charles Turner, after J.M.W. Turner
A mountain road emerges from a long tunnel. On the right, there is a precipitous ravine, with snow-capped mountains in the far distance. A laden mule approaches along the road, and a dark figure follows, silhouetted at the far end of the tunnel.
The subject of the print, the St Gotthard Pass, is an important route crossing the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Turner visited the pass on the Swiss side during his first continental tour in 1802, but did not cross into Italy on that occasion. He made a number of studies of the area, from which he produced oils and watercolours in the following years.
The present print shows a view from the Schollenen Gorge looking down the Reuss valley towards Goschenen.15 Turner published a different view of the pass – ‘Little Devil’s Bridge’ – in part IV of the Liber Studiorum. A third Liber subject from the same location, ‘The Devil’s Bridge, Mt St Gothard’, was engraved but not published. Turner was fascinated with the way the ancient road wound through the sublime landscape.
John Ruskin commented on Turner’s abiding interest in the St Gotthard pass: ‘The pass of the St. Gothard, especially, from the earliest days, had kept possession of his mind, not as a piece of mountain scenery but as a marvellous road; and the great drawing which I have to illustrate with some care in this book, the last he made in the Alps with unfailing energy, was wholly made to show the surviving of this tormented path through avalanche and storm, from the day when he first drew its two bridges, in the Liber Studiorum.’
Turner’s design employs positive and negative spaces to describe the tunnel and the precipitous ravine. Turner was clearly keen to emphasise this effect, writing on one of the engraver’s proofs detailed instructions for lightening or darkening various parts of the plate.
Dr Jackie Latham Donation 2015
On display in the Sitting RoomOctober 23, 2018