Joseph Mallord William Turner

Chain of Alps from Grenoble to Chamberi


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 190 x 268 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII Y

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘Chain of Alps from Grenoble to Chamberi’, published Turner, 23 May 1812
Turner’s Liber Studiorum design is based on a pencil, watercolour and gouache study made on his first Continental tour in 1802, in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate D04618; Turner Bequest LXXV 26). It is one of several Liber compositions derived from the book (see also Tate D08123, D08161, D08164; Turner Bequest CXVI V, CXVIII J, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G; and Tate N03631; in addition, Mer de Glace1 may have been etched directly from another page). The present design shows the entrance to the Isère valley from above La Frette, between Lyon to Grenoble on Turner’s south-easterly route towards the Alps; the dark, rising ground in the original sketch is devoid of detail, though rough pencil marks at the left may indicate the vines developed here. In the distance are the mountains of the Chartreuse to the left (east) and the Vercors to the right (south-west).2 There are other views of the valley in the France, Savoy, Piedmont and Grenoble sketchbooks (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXIII, LXXIV). As David Blayney Brown has observed, the light in the St Gotthard sketch is ‘diffused’, whereas in the Liber design the sun is shown breaking through the clouds in rays from above.3 In the subsequent Liber engraving, the beams were further developed into two main bursts streaming down to the valley floor.
The scope of Turner’s view, heightened in the print with its ‘vast plain, outspread like a sea’, was praised by Stopford Brooke:
After the immensity of the plain, we are brought among the energy of the mountains. They rise and heave, range after range, ... From the mountains we climb the infinite of the sky, ... whence, to give the last touch to the vastness of earth and heaven, two ladders of light are let down to the outstretched fields below. ... Turner has drawn, not the chain of Alps and Grenoble, but his impression of the immeasurableness of Nature.’4
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.31, 168.
Brown 1998, p.42.
Brooke 1885, pp.[164], 165.
Phythian [1910], p.136.
Andrew Wilton, Turner and the Sublime, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1980, p.[173].
Cook Wedderburn III 1903, pp.236, 237.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.6–8, 97–106; 1906, pp.[9]–11, 114–24; Finberg 1924, pp.1–4, 185–204.
Hardie 1938, p.48 no.7.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, pp.70–71, reproduced p.70.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Forrester 1996, p.111.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Read full Catalogue entry


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