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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Mill near the Grand Chartreuse c.1812-15

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Mill near the Grand Chartreuse circa 1812–15
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B
Watercolour on white wove lightweight writing paper, 232 x 342 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
?Henry Dawe
Henry Vaughan by 1872
Etching (attributed) and mezzotint by Henry Dawe, ‘Mill, near the Grand Chartreuse; – Dauphiny.’, published Turner, 1 January 1816
There seems to be no direct precedent for Turner’s Liber Studiorum design surviving among the sketches made of the valley of the Grande Chartreuse, in the French Alps north of Grenoble, on his first visit to the mountains in 1802. Several tonal studies in the Grenoble ‘sketchbook’ show craggy, wooded scenes in the area, and the Liber composition may have developed from various elements recorded there (Tate D04520, D04523, D04524, D04526, D04529, D04531; Turner Bequest LXXIV 27, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38).
The English poet Thomas Gray had written vividly of his 1739 visit to the area, ‘one of the most romantic, and most astonishing scenes I ever beheld’, as had William Wordsworth in his 1793 Descriptive Sketches, with the ‘death-like peace’ of the woods ‘Broke only by th’unvaried torrent’s sound.’1 Andrew Wilton has noted the site’s ‘central place in the consciousness of early searchers for the sublime among the Alps’,2 prompting Adele Holcomb’s observations on Turner’s ‘equipoise of grandeur and intimacy ... in a design that balances openness and containment.’3 Ruskin admired the ‘confined and gloomy’ aspect of the composition as an example of Turner’s ‘magnificent power of elaborating close foliage’,4 and also praised the implicit sense of height and depth of the ‘sublime’ scene,5 which he saw as being (to its advantage) in the tradition of Titian rather than Claude.6 He placed the subject among those symptomatic of the Liber’s perceived focus on ‘decay and humiliation’ and ‘patient striving with hard conditions’:
And last and chief, the mill in the valley of the Chartreuse. Another than Turner would have painted the convent; but he had no sympathy with the hope, no mercy for the indolence of the monk. He painted the mill in the valley. Precipice overhanging it, and wildness of dark forest round; blind rage and strength of mountain torrent rolled beneath it, – calm sunset above, but fading from the glen, leaving it to its roar of passionate waters and sighing of pine-branches in the night.7
Stopford Brooke emphasised the human element: ‘[Turner] felt, vast and overwhelming as the grandeur of rock and wood and torrent were, that yet the little building ... had a greater grandeur. It is in sympathy with this difficult and obedient victory of human effort that he pours behind the mill the scattered lights of the sunset’.8
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, with the etching generally attributed to the plate’s engraver, Dawe, bears the publication date 1 January 1816 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Mill, near the Grand Chartreuse; – Dauphiny.’ in part 11 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.52–56;9 see also Tate D08155, D08157; Turner Bequest CXVIII A, C). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01114) and the published engraving (A01115). It is one of fourteen published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08123, D08130, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08161, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI L, R, V, CXVII C, G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G).
Between 1858 and 1865, Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi10 (see general Liber introduction). Frank Short included this composition11 among his Twelve Subjects from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Etched and Mezzotinted by Frank Short (published by Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery, London, between 1885 and 1888), the first series of his Liber interpretations (Tate T05049;12 see general Liber introduction).
The early provenance of the present drawing is not known, though Gillian Forrester speculates that it may have been owned by Henry Dawe, who definitely retained several other Liber drawings which he had engraved.13 It was in Henry Vaughan’s collection by 1872 when he lent to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Liber exhibition.14
Quoted in David Hill, Turner in the Alps: The Journey through France & Switzerland in 1802, London 1992, pp.[33], 38 respectively.
Wilton 1980, p.31.
Holcomb 1983, p.52.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.586, 595 note.
Ibid., VI 1904, p.316.
Ibid., V 1904, p.399
Ibid., VII 1903, pp.432, 433.
Brooke 1885, p.180.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–15; 1906, pp.125–36; Finberg 1924, pp.205–24.
Ibid.: 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; 1924, p.216.
Hardie 1938, p.49 no.9.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.71.
Forrester 1996, p.115.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.38.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but has been identified as once being part of the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV),1 made up of ‘J Whatman | 1807’ paper.2 As it has been trimmed to the left to a width of 342 mm from its probable original 381 mm, it is not possible to establish its original location in the book by matching it to the stubs that remain there.
There is unusually prominent outlining over the tree trunks, and also for the bridge. Washes and brushwork avoided the reserved lights; the watercolour was worked with the fingers in many places, such as the foreground rocks, even after brushstrokes had been applied. There is some scratching-out for the foliage. The distant trees on the hillside were made with fine, vertical brushstrokes into wet paper. The overall very warm brown colour comprises Indian red and burnt sienna pigments.3 Forrester has suggested that in view of technical similarities and the proximity of their topography, Turner may have conceived this design and that for The Source of the Arveron (Tate D08161; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G), also originally a page in the Studies for Liber sketchbook, as a pair.4
Unlike other finished compositions removed from the sketchbook, it had been fully worked to the top and bottom of the sheet and was not cut down along these edges; nor was it trimmed to the right, where the washes (other than a rapid initial layer) and brushwork stop some way short of the edge. The full height of the composition (232 mm) was engraved; unusually for the Liber, the drawing was therefore considerably larger in its dimensions (by some twenty-five per cent) than the printed image, which at 187 mm in height was of a similar size to others plates in the series.
Ibid., pp.15, 24 note 82 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); see also Bower, Tate Conservation files.
Ibid., p.115 (analysis by Bower, as noted above); Bower, Tate conservation files.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.
Forrester 1996, p.122.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXVIII B | Pl 54’ top left
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVIII – B’ bottom centre

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Mill near the Grand Chartreuse c.1812–15 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-mill-near-the-grand-chartreuse-r1131759, accessed 22 July 2019.