Three of Turner's greatest late watercolours have been brought together for the first time: The Red Rigi (borrowed from Melbourne), The Blue Rigi and The Dark Rigi (both in private hands). By 20 March, when the exhibition ends, it will be clear whether or not the Art Fund has raised the £4.95 million needed to buy The Blue Rigi (shown here) for the Tate. Sometimes 'saving' a picture for the nation means no more than keeping hold of something which would lose nothing by being in another country. The Blue Rigi is different. Although the Tate has the most extensive of all Turner collections it has no late Swiss landscape of this sort, and it is only in an exhibition like this one - which sets the finished works alongside the studies and sketches from the massive Turner bequest - that you get to the heart of Turner's idiosyncratic creativity. There are sketchbook pages here, and large pale studies in sloppy dilute watercolour, that seem to be the repository of memories of, and ideas about, atmospheric effects. There are other sketchbooks in which tiny drawings in fine pencil detail buildings and hard scenery. There are the sample studies for all three Rigis: the roughs from which patrons could choose to commission finished watercolours. All these preliminaries take on new meanings when the end result is to hand.
LRB 8 March 2007 | PDF Download