It is part of a group of watercolours that are numbered among the finest works in the medium ever made, and is an extraordinary study in light, colour and texture. The build-up of overlapping washes, augmented with hatching and delicate touches of the brush, and slight scrapings of the fingernail, creates subtle textures on the surface of the paper, invoking both the infinite depths of the shadows as well as the pearly mists encircling the mountain. High above the Rigi itself is the glittering form of Venus, the Morning Star, whose luminous sparkle is reflected in the lake just as its tranquillity is broken by a gunshot and the startled splashing of dogs and ducks.
Turner was not alone in being captivated by the Rigi, which was widely known to 19th-century British travellers as the ‘Queen of Mountains’. A decade before Turner produced these watercolours, Henry Inglis had written in a guidebook that ‘Before travelling into Switzerland, or, at all events, soon after arriving in it, every one hears of the Rigi. “Have you been up the Rigi?” is the universal question; “You must be sure to ascend the Rigi” is the universal injunction.’ Crowds of tourists stayed overnight at the inn on its flat summit, hoping to witness a spectacular sunset or sunrise over the surrounding landscape. But Turner never made the expected ascent, preferring to study the mountain from a distance in different atmospheric conditions. His interest in the ways in which different lighting and weather transform a motif clearly foreshadows the approach of later artists such as Monet.
Visits to the Rigi took place mainly during the summer months, from May to October. At this time of year, the atmosphere during the middle of day becomes hazy, making dawn and dusk the ideal times for enjoying views. The Blue Rigi was Turner’s first attempt at recording the moment before dawn when the sun just perceptibly begins to chase away the cool darkness of night. Using subtly modulated washes of blue, the artist recreated the stillness and wonder of this instant. It offers a more unified tonal impression of the scene than The Dark Rigi, which is a later reworking of the composition.
The Blue Rigi is in exceptional condition and will be one of the only finished, full-scale late watercolours in the collection.