Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Mer de Glace and Valley of Chamonix


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Chalk and graphite on paper
Support: 315 × 473 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXV 20

Catalogue entry

This quick, incisive sketch was taken from the track up to the Montenvers and the Mer de Glace, looking down on the left towards the Glacier du Bois and the cave from which springs the fountain of the River Arveyron. Far below is the Valley of Chamonix. In his catalogue notes for the National Gallery, John Ruskin described this as a ‘First sketch from nature ... made in going up the Montanvert during a minute or two of pause to take breath’.1
Turner used this sketch as the basis for a watercolour made for Walter Fawkes, variously dated c.1809 or 1814 (Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio),2 whose original title Valley of Chamouni has been established by Eric Shanes.3 The general outline of the valley and screen of dead trees are retained in the watercolour. A larger version of this composition also made for Fawkes (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut)4 was long thought to have been exhibited in 1803 but Shanes has argued that it should be redated c.1814 and associated with a different original title, Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland.5 Turner drew similar scenes nearby on larger, separate sheets (for example Tate D04480, D04886; Turner Bequest LXXIX F, L).
As Ruskin was the first to observe, Turner also used this subject for the Liber Studiorum plate The Source of the Arveron in the Valley of Chamouni Savoy, via the study (Tate D08161; Turner Bequest CXVIII G). Gillian Forrester suggests this was intended to form a pair with another Liber Alpine subject, Mill near the Grande Chartreuse.6
Ruskin on Pictures; Cook 1902, p.228; Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.267.
Wilton 1979, p.344 no.389, as ‘“Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland” (Chamonix, looking down the valley)’.
Eric Shanes, ‘Identifying Turner’s Chamonix water-colours’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.142 no.1172, November 2000, p.694.
Wilton 1979, p.341 no.365, as ‘Glacier and Source of the Arveron, Going up to the Mer de Glace’ and exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1803.
Shanes 2000, pp.692–4.
Forrester 1996, p.122.

David Blayney Brown
October 2011

Read full Catalogue entry


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