Among the most celebrated Swiss landscape painters of the 19th century, Alexander Calame made a particular speciality of Alpine mountain scenes. Despite losing his right eye as a child, he was determined to make a career as an artist, and studied with the landscapist François Diday between 1829 and 1832. From 1828 he began producing vues pittoresques suisses in gouache, intended for sale as autonomous works of art, which allowed him a measure of financial independence. He first came to the attention of French collectors and connoisseurs at the Salon of 1839, where he exhibited a view set in the Bernese Oberland, entitled A Thunderstorm in Handeck. The painting was a great success in Paris, and was purchased by public subscription by the city of Geneva for the Musée Rath. At the Salon two years later one of his paintings, a View of the Valley of Ansasca, was purchased by the King, Louis-Philippe. By this time Calame’s success was assured. His paintings, worked up from oil sketches and drawings made sur le motif, were in great demand, and were purchased by collectors throughout Europe, and particularly in Russia. In 1854 he published a number of landscape drawings and studies in lithographic form as Leçons de dessin appliqué au paysage.
The present sheet is a youthful work by the artist and depicts, according to the inscription on the old backing board, a view of the town of Grandson, on the southern shore of Lake Neuch‚tel in Switzerland, seen from near Yverdon at the mouth of the river Thiele (or Zihl), which feeds into the lake at its southwestern tip. A closely related watercolour - of a similar subject and taken from the same viewpoint - is in a private Swiss collection. Larger than the present sheet, the latter drawing also depicts a boat in stormy waters, but in the midst of a thunderstorm.
Calame treated the subject of a boat on a lake in a handful of other, similarly finished early watercolours, such as a view of The Port of Geneva in a Swiss private collection, datable to 1831, and a Lake in a Thunderstorm of 1835, in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva.