For Turner’s visit to Grenoble in 1802 see Introduction to the sketchbook. He spent three or four days in the city and used it as a base for exploring the surrounding scenery. Most of his more finished drawings of the city come from this book; there are quicker sketches in the France, Savoy, Piedmont sketchbook (Tate D04488, D04490; Turner Bequest LXXIII 76a, 77a).
Turner’s label for this drawing is inscribed ‘Mt Blanc Val de Iser from le fort de Louis’. The view looks eastwards along the Grésivaudan or Valley of Grenoble from the donjon wall below the Bastille, known at the time of Turner’s visit in 1802 as the ‘Fort de Louis’. As Turner saw them, the fortifications were decayed but otherwise little changed from those built up during the reign of Louis XIII at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the governor of the Dauphiné, Marshall Lesdiguières. They were later remodelled by General Haxo, 1823–47.
The city lies below. Just visible, on the right, is the fourteenth-century Tour de l’Île, part of the old city fortifications which had housed the French army of occupation in 1792, and perhaps the belfry of the Cathedral. In the distance, the River Isère meanders along the valley, marked by Turner in white. Beyond, to the right, are the village of St Martin d’Hères and the forest of St Martin d’Uriage. The distant mountains include the Belledonne range, with the Pic de Chamrousse and the Pic du Grand Colon, but perhaps not Mont Blanc as Turner supposed. For observations on this drawing, the author is grateful to Roland Courtot of the University of Aix-en-Provence.1
John Ruskin’s catalogue notes on this drawing, when it was exhibited at Marlborough House, observed that
when Turner wants to give value to a vertical line he adds verticalness somewhere else; and when he wants to insist on a graceful one, adds gracefulness somewhere else. So here, wanting to insist on the plain’s flatness, he adds flatness in the walls. He always attached infinitely more value to sympathy than to contrast; it was one of his leading principles as a composer.2