The Art of the Sublime

ISBN 978-1-84976-387-5

John Brett Glacier of Rosenlaui 1856

John Brett 'Glacier of Rosenlaui' 1856
John Brett 1831–1902
Glacier of Rosenlaui 1856
Oil paint on canvas
support: 445 x 419 mm; frame: 690 x 603 x 71 mm
Tate N05643
Purchased 1946
The Rosenlaui glacier is at the foot of two spectacular Alpine peaks, including the Dossenhorn, and yet they are not the focus here. Instead Brett makes a meticulous study of different types of rocks and pebbles, offset by the dense blue-white folds of the glacier itself. This attention to the detail as well as enormity of nature reflects the critic John Ruskin’s sentiment that a small stone was ‘a mountain in miniature’. Brett had travelled to Switzerland after reading Ruskin’s Of Mountain Beauty and met the artist John William Inchbold who influenced him to ‘paint all I could see’.
From William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book 6, Cambridge and the Alps, 1850
... The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And in the narrow rent, at every turn,
Winds thwarting winds bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
The unfettered clouds and regions of the heavens,
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light –
Were all like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.

How to cite

John Brett, Glacier of Rosenlaui 1856, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013,, accessed 17 January 2018.