View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This vivid coloured drawing served as the basis of the watercolour made for Walter Fawkes and, as argued by David Hill and more recently by Eric Shanes, exhibited as Glacier and Source of the Arveron, Going up to the Mer de Glace at the Royal Academy in 1803 (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff).1 The fountain of the River Arveyron is shown in the immediate foreground, among the rocks of a cave at the base of the former Glacier du Bois emanating from the Mer de Glace. In the near middle distance are the ice-worn Rochers des Mottets and above, the peaks of the Aiguilles du Dru and Verte. As the present author noted at the time of the 1998 Tate/Martigny exhibition, Turner’s label ‘Chamoni source de Arveiron’ must have belonged to the drawing and he also listed ‘Source of the Arveron’ among subjects commissioned, in hand or ‘done’ at the front of his album of 1802 dawings (see Technical notes to the Grenoble sketchbook, Tate, Turner Bequest LXXIV). Technically and stylistically, the more finished Cardiff version is very close to the 1802 original, its emphasis on the contrasting surfaces and textures of ice and rock being, in Hill’s words, an example of the ‘theme of engagement with matter’ developed in Turner’s work after his Alpine tour.2 In the watercolour, Turner introduced a snake, ‘to provoke reflection on the pessimism of the postlapsarian curse, or on the utopianism of the natural idyll’.3
Turner made a coloured study on a larger separate sheet, concentrating on the source of the river and the glacier rather than the distant mountains and omitting the rocks in the foreground (D04887; Turner Bequest LXXIX M).
The present drawing, with another from this sketchbook (D04612; Turner Bequest LXXV 20), was used the plate The Source of the Arveron in the Valley of Chamouni Savoy for the Liber Studiorum, via the study (Tate D08161; Turner Bequest CXVIII G). Forrester suggests that this may have intended to form a pair with another Alpine subject, Mill near the Grande Chartreuse.4