Clarence’s father and The Blue Rigi

This is a note from Selby Whittingham on Turner’s The Blue Rigi in a forthcoming book on Turner, which will also reproduce one of the Whaler pictures. It was bought off Turner by Clarence Bicknell’s father Elhanan in 1842, the year of Clarence’s birth at Herne Hill.

“The Blue Rigi: Lake of Lucerne – Sunrise (1842), watercolour on paper, 29.7 x 45 cm, private collection. This painting is considered perhaps Turner’s greatest masterpiece in watercolour. A hunter’s duck has jumped from a boat into the water, causing ducks to take to flight. In the distance, Rigi mountain looms in the mist. Delicate layers of cloud float over the lake and shores. Turner was an afficionado of sunrises, once claiming that he never missed one. The 1,797 metre-high Rigi would become one of Turner’s favourite motifs. Although Turner did not paint double versions of pictures, he sometimes made variations that described the motif in different weather conditions and times of day. Of the other versions of Rigi, developed to different levels of finish, the most well-known of these is The Red Rigi (1842), in the collection of the Australian National Gallery, Victoria.
“Turner’s working method was so improvised and varied that each painting became the sum of accumulated insights, accidents and accentuations of spontaneously occurring effects. He did not reject the accident but instead incorporated the fortuitous blotch, juxtaposition of colour and gap. This was a practice that (a century later) the Abstract Expressionists and Francis Bacon would emulate. Sheets of barely started compositions, consisting of a few colours washed roughly over the paper, would be elaborated. This was a method originated by Alexander Cozens in his landscape wash paintings. However, unlike later abstract painters, it was only after these had been embellished by Turner with recognisable forms of landscape, buildings, ships and so forth that these became presentable.
On 5 June 2006, this painting was sold by auction to a private collector for £7,364,580.”

Turner sold The Blue Rigi in 1842 through dealer Thomas Griffith to whaling mogul Elhanan Bicknell. After Bicknell’s death, the painting was sold at Christie’s in April 1863 for 296 guineas to the art dealer Agnew’s, and resold a month later to John Edward Taylor (son of the founder of the Manchester Guardian).

Clarence’s arts-and-crafts flower watercolours are on worldwide sale at