This is a colour study, preparatory to the watercolour made in 1817 for Sir John Swinburne (on the London art market in 2007)1 and engraved for the Bijou in 1829 as ‘Mount Blanc’; by this time the watercolour belonged to Benjamin Oakley who lent it as a ‘View of Savoy’ to the Society of British Artists for their Winter Exhibition in 1834.2 The essentials of the composition, the road, mountains, town of Bonneville and ruins on the right are already laid out, as is the play of light and shade. In the finished version, Turner positioned a Swiss girl on the road and added trees and undergrowth on the right.
The composition is a reprise of a painting (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803, probably as Bonneville, Savoy, with Mont Blanc rather than Châteaux de St Michael, Bonneville, Savoy as previously thought, and catalogued by Butlin and Joll.3 Past confusion between these two subjects, both shown in 1803, has been convincingly resolved by Andrew Wilton4 who identified the latter with the picture now in the Dallas Museum of Art.5 The traditional importance of Bonneville as a gateway to the Alps resulted in a series of paintings and watercolours for important patrons. Turner anticipated their commissions by drawing substantial views of the town and surrounding mountains during his tour in 1802.
Butlin and Joll describe Tate’s study as made for the 1803 oil, adding that ‘although fairly summary in treatment, [it] has something of the bright local colours of the finished picture’.6 In fact both the picture and the Swinburne watercolour descend from the same source, a more detailed but tonally subdued drawing on tinted paper probably begun on the spot in 1802 (Courtauld Gallery, London).7 This had been thought to have originated in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXV) until Peter Bower discovered that it is on a different paper, also used by Turner in 1802 but for larger, separate drawings.8 The Courtauld drawing lays out the composition in all its grandeur, with the emphatic, receding road – a feature based on a memory of Nicolas Poussin’s Roman Road (Dulwich Picture Gallery), which had been exhibited in London in 1802 during the sale of Noel Desenfans’s collection, as well as observation on-site. Lecturing on ‘Backgrounds’ as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy in 1811, Turner praised Poussin’s ‘powerful specimen of Historic landscape, in which the rules of parallel perspective produce propriety even in Landscape ... a road terminates in the middle of the picture and every line in it tends to that centre’.9
Wilton 1979, p.345 no.400 as untraced; Sotheby’s sale, London, 4 July 2007 lot 8.
Powell 2008, p.21 note 26.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.39–40 no.50 (pl.59).
Andrew Wilton, ‘Turner at Bonneville’, in John Wilmerding (ed.), Essays in Honor of Paul Mellon, New Haven 1986, pp.402–27; see also Ian Warrell, ‘Bonneville’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.27–8, and, in this catalogue, chiefly notes to Tate D04599; Turner Bequest LXX 7.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.35–6 no.46 (pl.56).
Wilton 1979, p.340 no.355.
Selborne, Wilton and Powell 2008, p.68.
Jerrold Ziff, ‘Backgrounds, Introduction of Architecture and Landscape: A Lecture by J.M.W. Turner’, The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.26, 1963, pp.124–7.
E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (eds.), Library Edition: The Works of John Ruskin: Volume XIII: Turner: The Harbours of England; Catalogues and Notes, London 1904, p.419.