Joseph Mallord William Turner

Chamonix: Mont Blanc and the Arve Valley from the Path to the Montenvers


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 318 × 472 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXV 18

Technique and condition

In this painting on grey-washed wove paper, indigo has been used in the sky, foreground and middle ground, sometimes mixed with other pigments. All these areas have faded or changed tone: Finberg noted the loss of colour in the earlier twentieth century. A tiny strip of surviving blue on the top edge, left of centre, shows the extent of the change. The warm brown earth pigments mixed with indigo for the originally greener foreground landscape now create a rather uniform impression of warmth, and match the colour of the pine trees more than Turner intended. Where the trees were darkest against the hillside, some of their dark green-black colour remains, but where they were painted paler against the sky, only brown is left behind, giving the upper branches a bleak and dying appearance. The white gouache used for the snow-capped mountains also looks less dramatic against pale, now-uniform grey sky that might have been modulated with clouds painted in different strengths of blue indigo wash.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

John Russell and Andrew Wilton consider this composition, though faded by exposure, ‘one of the grandest’ from this sketchbook with a pronounced diagonal stress that ‘seems to have embodied for [Turner] the dynamic essence of Alpine landscape’.1 In this respect it is similar to the drawing taken from closer to the trees by the track up the Montenvers, also from the sketchbook (D04607; Turner Bequest LXXV 15). Russell and Wilton identify the distant mountains here as the Dôme du Goûter and Aiguille du Goûter, and the Glacier des Bossons on the right. More recently Eric Shanes has described this as a view south-westwards down the valley of the River Arve, across a wide swathe of the Montenvers, with Mont Blanc high on the left. He identifies the watercolour made from it for Walter Fawkes and signed and dated 1809 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester)2 as the Montanvert, Valley of Chamouni shown in Fawkes’s exhibition of his collection at 45 Grosvenor Place in 1819.3
Russell and Wilton 1976, p.43.
Wilton 1979, p.343 no.387, as ‘The Valley of Chamouni‘.
Eric Shanes, ‘Identifying Turner’s Chamonix water-colours’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.142 no.1172, November 2000, p.692
Blank, inscribed perhaps by a later hand in pencil ‘4’ within a circle

David Blayney Brown
October 2011

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