John Ruskin, Above Baveno, looking north west to Monte Orfano, and the entrance to the Domodossola valley leading to the Simplon Pass (Verso) 1845
This watercolour study, depicting Isola Madre and the Mountains above Laveno, from above Baveno on Lago Maggiore, continues the panorama begun on the reverse side, Above Baveno, looking north west to Monte Orfano, and the entrance to the Domodossola valley leading to the Simplon Pass.
The sheet, inscribed ‘Baveno 20 August’, was completed on Ruskin’s long summer tour to Italy in 1845, primarily designed to generate material on art and architecture for the second volume of Modern Painters (1846). In August, he spent two weeks at Baveno, a town on the west shore of Lago Maggiore, where he was struck by the ‘richness & majesty of the landscape above Baveno’ in the Val d’Ossola (LE 36 (1909)/54).
At this time, Ruskin was engaging with J. M. W. Turner’s Liber Studiorum (1807-1819), a series of engravings published in parts each consisting of five plates carrying an etched outline, usually etched by Turner himself, with light and shade expressed by mezzotint engraving. By 1845, Ruskin was adding references to the Liber Studiorum to the third edition of Modern Painters I, published in 1846. The influence of the sepia tones of the Liber Studiorum, and emphasis on visual observation, is reflected in the panorama created at Baveno: the monochrome recto, and brown/black washes on the verso, with areas emphasised in colour.
Writing to his father the day after producing Above Baveno, Ruskin expresses some frustration with his drawings: ‘I feel far more in Italy than I did at Florence, and the effects on the lake and mountains are so lovely that they make me quite miserable – because I can’t do them’ (Ruskin in Italy: letters to his parents, 1845, Ed. by Harold I. Shapiro (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p.179). The expressive verso study suggests Ruskin was experimenting with modes of representation: by 1845, he was no longer producing ‘finished’ drawings but, following Turner, focusing on producing visual ‘memoranda’ that truthfully represented place and feeling.
Reference no. 1996P0870
Locations identified by David Hill, 2014