Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Alps (The Alps at Daybreak), for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 241 × 302 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 184

Display caption

In this design for Rogers's 'Poems', Turner brilliantly exploits the potential of the vignette form. The edges of the subject merge with the white of the paper, helping to expand the image ever outwards, and create the impression of a limitless and dazzling snow-filled landscape beyond. The chamois are said to have caused Turner some trouble, and to have been completely redrawn by Edward Goodall when translating the design into an engraving (no.13).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This vignette, The Alps (The Alps at Daybreak), was published in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems and appears as the head-piece to a poem of the same title.1 The engraver was Edward Goodall.2 The illustration provides a stunning complement to Rogers’s four short verses describing an Alpine deer hunt:
The sun-beams streak the azure skies,
And line with light the mountain’s brow:
With hounds and horns the hunters rise,
And chase the roebuck thro’ the snow.
From rock to rock, with giant-bound,
High on their iron poles they pass;
Mute, lest the air, convulsed by sound,
Rend from above a frozen mass.
The goats wind slow their wonted way;
Up craggy steeps and ridges rude;
Marked by the wild wolf for his prey,
From desert cave of hanging wood.
And while the torrent thunders loud,
And as the echoing cliffs reply,
The huts peep o’er the morning-cloud,
Perched, like an eagle’s nest, on high.
(Poems, pp.192–3)
Turner highlighted the last two stanzas with pencil in the margins of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems and also made two tiny thumbnail sketches of Alpine scenery, one of which appears to relate quite closely to the final composition (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI pp.207–8). The finished vignette shows the hunters with their horns, hounds, and iron poles, in pursuit of a group of fleeing roebuck. In the distance, the artist has included a little hut that may be based on his memory of Blair’s Refuge above the Mer de Glace in Savoy, which he saw in 1802.3 Turner apparently had some difficulty with the forms of the deer in the foreground, and they are said to have been entirely redrawn by the engraver of the print, Edward Goodall.4
The Alps at Daybreak undoubtedly represents one of Turner’s finest and most subtle manipulations of the vignette format. Whilst attending to many of the details mentioned in Rogers’s text, the artist has also created a highly original and visually stunning vignette illustration. The irregular form of the design lends a dynamism to the composition that is in turn heightened by the vortex of light at the centre of the scene and by the absence of a stable horizon line. By allowing the white space in the illustration to merge with the white of the page, Turner creates the impression of an expansive and dazzling snow-filled landscape. The small size of the hunters further accentuates the sublime scale of the surrounding scene.5 More than any other illustration in Rogers’s Poems, The Alps at Daybreak epitomises the praiseworthy qualities that the art critic P.G. Hamerton associated with Turner’s vignettes as a whole:
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.191.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.395. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T05122).
Shanes, Joll, Warrell and others 2000, p.186.
Lyles 1992, p.49.
Wilton 1977, p.70.
Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1879, p.228.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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