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
Crayon and graphite on paper
Support: 561 × 726 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXIX F

Catalogue entry

Turner’s campaign of drawing the Valley and glaciers of Chamonix in 1802 produced not only a group of studies in his St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook but four more outlines on larger sheets of grey-washed paper he had also brought with him. This and another (D04886; Turner Bequest LXXIX L) address similar views to a drawing from St Gothard and Mont Blanc (Tate D04612; Turner Bequest LXXV 20); all were 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 while the Valley of Chamonix runs far below.
All these drawings must have contributed to the watercolours made for Walter Fawkes; one variously dated c.1809 or 1814 (Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio)1 whose original title Valley of Chamouni has been established by Eric Shanes2 and the larger version (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut)3 long thought to have been exhibited in 1803 but redated c.1814 by Shanes and associated with a different original title, Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland.4
Turner used a similar view 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.5
It also seems possible that Turner used the general composition and arrangement of the trees in drawings like this and D04886; Turner Bequest LXXIX L as points of reference for his picture The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons exhibited in Turner’s Gallery in 1810 (Tate N00489).6 No other drawings have been found relating to the picture, which is largely imaginary in conception, Turner having neither visited the Grisons nor seen an avalanche in 1802. Verse written by him for the picture, describing ‘pine clad forests | and towering glaciers’, sounds like a memory of Chamonix.
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. For an agnostic view of Shanes’s redating see Gillian Forrester in John Baskett, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson and others, Paul Mellon’s Legacy: A Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2007, p.283.
Shanes 2000, pp.692–4.
Forrester 1996, p.122.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed.1984, New Haven and London 1984, pp.77–8 no.109 (pl.118).

David Blayney Brown
January 2012

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