J.M.W. Turner on Lake Lucerne


The pre-Impressionist painter J.M.W. Turner made a series of visits to Switzerland, and few artists have better captured the drama of the Alpine landscape. Strangely, Turner became obsessed with an extremely minor peak known as the Rigi, which stands on the northern shore of Lake Lucerne. He painted the 5,899-foot mountain over 30 times, and his watercolor “The Blue Rigi, Sunrise” is one of his most celebrated works. (There is also “The Red Rigi” and “The Dark Rigi.”) The Victorians climbed the Rigi for the panoramic view from the top, which includes the peaks of the Saint-Gotthard Massif as well as the Eiger and the Jungfrau. So popular was the ascent that the first cog railway in Europe opened in 1871 to take travelers from Vitznau on the lakeshore to the summit, Rigi Kulm. Turner himself never went up the Rigi; he was interested only in its massive and brooding silhouette from below, as well as the shifting colors and light effects caused by changing weather patterns. For a memorable day trip, I suggest that you take the steamer from Lucerne to Vitznau. There, change to the cogwheel train to Rigi Kulm in order to admire the view. Afterward, take the cogwheel train to Rigi Kaltbad, and then the cable car to Weggis. It is a 15-minute walk to the quayside, from where you can catch another ferry back to Lucerne.

"The Blue Rigi, Sunrise" by J.M.W. Turner
"The Blue Rigi, Sunrise" by J.M.W. Turner - © Public Domain PD-1996

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