Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville, USA): The Sea and the Alps: Turner's Quest for the Sublime
145a. [N02988] Grenoble seen from the River Drac with Mont Blanc in the Distance c. 1802–3
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (2988)
Canvas, 14 1/4 × 25 1/4 (36 × 64)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.
Exh. Dresden (repr.) and Berlin 1972 (1).
Lit. Martin Butlin in ‘Picture Notes’, Turner Studies, ii, no. 1, Summer 1982, pp. 56–7, pl. 1.
Hitherto thought to represent a view in North Italy (and sometimes identified as the Val d'Aosta), this small oil painting was catalogued in the first edition of this catalogue as No. 255, ‘River Scene, North Italy’, and tentatively dated ‘c. 1820–30?’. Now, thanks to M. Léon Reymond (letter of 16 November 1981 in the Tate Gallery files) the subject has been identified as a distant view of Grenoble, with the River Drac in the foreground and Mont Blanc in the distance on the right. The flat-topped mountain is Mont St. Eynard.
This identification is confirmed by comparison with a drawing in the ‘Grenoble’ Sketchbook (LXXIV-O; repr. Butlin, op. cit., pl. 2). This sketchbook, now dismembered, dates from Turner's first visit to the French Alps in 1802. The only other on-the-spot sketches of Grenoble by Turner seem to date from late in Turner's career, about 1835 or later (in the ‘Genoa to Grenoble’ Sketchbook, CCXCV’, the ‘Grenoble’ Sketchbook, CCCXL, and among miscellaneous black and white drawings, CCXXLII-13, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20; examples are repr. exh. cat., Paris 1981–2, passim). The oil sketch is certainly not as late as this and one must assume that it was painted during or soon after Turner's first trip to France while his recollection of the site was still fresh. In the solid modelling of the forms and the interest in geometrical masses this work resembles Turner's Poussinesque landscapes of Bonneville, exhibited in 1803 (Nos. 46 and 50).
The top paint layer has suffered from overcleaning in the middle distance on the right and in an area below and slightly to the left of the towers in the centre of the picture.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984