J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner La Chaire de Gargantua, near Duclair c.1832

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
La Chaire de Gargantua, near Duclair c.1832
Turner Bequest CCLIX 106
Gouache and watercolour on blue paper, 138 x 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
By Robert Brandard in 1833, published in 1834.
In this watercolour Turner evokes a stormy scene. Below a brooding, dark sky, a flash of white lightning zig-zags down the left side of the view and a contrasting streak of black smoke rises from a steamer on the right, the lines forming dramatic opposing diagonals. The line of lightning is further reflected in the water in the left foreground and echoes the streak of smoke at right. The sails of the boats depicted on the right curve dramatically with the force of the wind, this force emphasised by the depiction of currents in the water in the right foreground. The figures in their shallow boats seem precarious. The white structure on the hillside at left, dramatically illuminated by the lightning, is known as La Chaire (or ‘Chaise’) de Gargantua and translates from the French as ‘the chair of Gargantua’. It overlooks the River Seine near the town of Duclair in northern France. It is a natural geological formation, consisting of an outcrop of two enormous rocks seen as resembling the armrests of a giant chair. The ancient name may date from the eleventh century and is associated with a legend of a giant.1 Turner refers to the structure as the ‘Giant’s Chair’.2
The watercolour is based on pencil sketches (Tate D23830, D23831, D23833–D23836; Turner Bequest CCLIII 67, 67a, 68a–70) in Turner’s Tancarville and Lillebonne sketchbook,3 believed to date from 1829, as well as on annotations made by Turner in his copy of a French guidebook dating from 1829, a third edition of M.J. Morlent’s, Voyage Historique et Pittoresque du Havre à Rouen sur la Seine, en Bateau à Vapeur.4
An engraving was made from this watercolour by Robert Brandard in 1833, as La Chaire de Gargantua (Tate impressions T05603 and T06233) for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 18345 (titled ‘La Chaise de Gargantua’ in the ‘List of Engravings’).
Wilton 1975, p.120.
Wilton 1979, p.413; Warrell 1999, p.275.
Warrell 1999, p.275.
Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1834, opposite p.112.
Blank, except for an inscription ‘11’ in grey gouache in the upper left of the sheet; above and to the right of this ‘15’ in grey gouache or dark pencil; and ‘Giant’s Chair | near Duclair’ at upper centre in grey gouache, all probably made by Turner. The sheet is stamped just off centre with the Turner Bequest monogram above the number ‘CCLIX – 106’, which is also written in pencil above. There is brownish staining at centre bottom right.

Caroline South
November 2017

How to cite

Caroline South, ‘La Chaire de Gargantua, near Duclair c.1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-la-chaire-de-gargantua-near-duclair-r1195798, accessed 27 June 2022.