Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville, USA): The Sea and the Alps: Turner's Quest for the Sublime
This is the largest of the later coloured studies or versions based on drawings made during Turner’s Alpine tour in 1802. As Finberg was the first to observe, it originated in a pencil sketch in the Lake Thun sketchbook (Tate D04726; Turner Bequest LXXVI 66) which is marked with a cross, or perhaps the letter ‘F’ indicating a commission from Walter Fawkes.
Finberg suggested that the subject of the present work is the Great St Bernard Pass, or the Jungfrau from the Lauterbrunnen road. The second location was preferred by John Russell and Andrew Wilton who offered possible identifications of the mountains as the Engelhörner, Wellhorn and Wetterhorn, indicating that the route would be the Grosse Scheidegg to Rosenlaui.1 However, Russell and Wilton also suggested the St Gotthard road below Göschenen in the Reuss valley, looking towards Wassen, the location subsequently confirmed by David Hill.2
Russell and Wilton, and afterwards Wilton independently thought the coloured version was an unfinished watercolour for exhibition or commission, rather than a separate study or ‘colour beginning’, perhaps planned as a pendant to a watercolour from Fawkes’s collection long believed to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut).3 The Yale watercolour is approximately the same size. This possibility has accounted for the dating of the present work to c.1803. In fact this seems too early on stylistic grounds and Eric Shanes has argued that the Yale watercolour should be redated c.1814 and identified with a different subject in Fawkes’s collection, Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland.4
On the other hand, the colour study could be earlier again if Lawrence Gowing and Butlin and Joll were right in thinking that its clump of trees atop a spur of rock became the mountain-dwelling dragon in The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides exhibited in 1806 (Tate N00477).5 Alternatively, the motifs may simply share a common source, or have travelled the other way, from picture to watercolour. Whatever the basis of the connection, it suggests that Turner associated this apparently peaceful subject with contrasting wartime themes – in the case of The Goddess of Discord, the origins of the Trojan War.
Russell and Wilton 1976, pp.46–7.
Hill 1992, p.134.
Wilton 1979, p.341 no.365, as ‘Glacier and Source of the Arveron, Going up to the Mer de Glace’.
Eric Shanes, ‘Identifying Turner’s Chamonix Water-colours’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.142, November 2000, pp.687–94. For a cautious reaction to the 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.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.44–6 no.57 (pl.67).
David Blayney Brown, Turner in the Alps 1802, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, p.184.
Wilton 1979, p.341 no.369 where wrongly sized; it is in fact 690 x 1040 mm; see Shanes 2000, p.694.
Wilton 1979, p.342 no.378; Sotheby’s sale, London, 4 July 2007, lot 7.
Hill 1992, p.135.