Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Hospice at the Summit of the Great St Bernard Pass, Mont Vélan in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 340 × 425 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 195

Catalogue entry

Finberg could not identify the subject of this broad colour study and assigned it to a group of ‘Colour Beginnings 1820–1830’ whose status would be ‘modifiable by subsequent research’. While still unaware of the subject, Andrew Wilton suggested it was painted ‘immediately after’ Turner’s return from Italy in 1820 but also speculated that the ‘sombre colouring’ might belong to Turner’s Alpine tour in 1802.1 Subsequently, recognising that the study is based on a drawing of the Hospice and lake at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass, in the Grenoble sketchbook used in 1802 (Tate D04548; Turner Bequest LXXIV 55), Wilton and John Russell proposed a date c.1806. They suggested that it was an ‘experiment’ made in connection with the series of Alpine watercolours in progress for Walter Fawkes and other patrons. An up-tick in this activity around 1809 might argue for a rather later date but the matter is unlikely to be resolved.
Although Turner had found the ‘Road & accommodations over St Bernard very bad’,2 the historic importance of the Hospice as a place of rest en route to Italy, its tradition of rescuing snow-bound travellers and the memory of Napoleon’s recent stay there in 1800 made it an obvious subject for a finished work. However, Turner seems to have got no further, in Wilton’s opinion because ‘the austerity of the subject apparently daunted him’.3 In its abstract blocks of colour and lack of detail the colour study emphasises the bleak grandeur of the scene. The subdued tones, especially in the dark lake, are directly prompted by the Grenoble drawing which Turner had probably made in the evening as light was fading. Here, the only bright spot is the snowy peak of Mont Vélan, indicated by leaving the white paper exposed.
Wilton 1987, p.58.
As reported to Joseph Farington, 22 November 1802; Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre eds., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.V, August 1801–March 1803, New Haven and London 1979, p.1936.
Wilton 1985, p.32.
Technical notes:
The paper has no watermark.
Laid down

David Blayney Brown
January 2012

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