This vignette, The Alps (The Alps at Daybreak)
, was published in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems
and appears as the head-piece to a poem of the same title.1
The engraver was Edward Goodall.2
The illustration provides a stunning complement to Rogers’s four short verses describing an Alpine deer hunt:
The sun-beams streak the azure skies,
And line with light the mountain’s brow:
With hounds and horns the hunters rise,
And chase the roebuck thro’ the snow.
From rock to rock, with giant-bound,
High on their iron poles they pass;
Mute, lest the air, convulsed by sound,
Rend from above a frozen mass.
The goats wind slow their wonted way;
Up craggy steeps and ridges rude;
Marked by the wild wolf for his prey,
From desert cave of hanging wood.
And while the torrent thunders loud,
And as the echoing cliffs reply,
The huts peep o’er the morning-cloud,
Perched, like an eagle’s nest, on high.
Turner highlighted the last two stanzas with pencil in the margins of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems
and also made two tiny thumbnail sketches of Alpine scenery, one of which appears to relate quite closely to the final composition (see Tate D36330
; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI pp.207–8). The finished vignette shows the hunters with their horns, hounds, and iron poles, in pursuit of a group of fleeing roebuck. In the distance, the artist has included a little hut that may be based on his memory of Blair’s Refuge above the Mer de Glace in Savoy, which he saw in 1802.3
Turner apparently had some difficulty with the forms of the deer in the foreground, and they are said to have been entirely redrawn by the engraver of the print, Edward Goodall.4
The Alps at Daybreak
undoubtedly represents one of Turner’s finest and most subtle manipulations of the vignette format. Whilst attending to many of the details mentioned in Rogers’s text, the artist has also created a highly original and visually stunning vignette illustration. The irregular form of the design lends a dynamism to the composition that is in turn heightened by the vortex of light at the centre of the scene and by the absence of a stable horizon line. By allowing the white space in the illustration to merge with the white of the page, Turner creates the impression of an expansive and dazzling snow-filled landscape. The small size of the hunters further accentuates the sublime scale of the surrounding scene.5
More than any other illustration in Rogers’s Poems
, The Alps at Daybreak
epitomises the praiseworthy qualities that the art critic P.G. Hamerton associated with Turner’s vignettes as a whole:
Of all the artists who ever lived I think it is Turner who treated the vignette most exquisitely ... If you examine a vignette by Turner round its edges, if you can call them edges, you will perceive how exquisitely the objects come out of nothingness into being, and how cautiously, as a general rule, he will avoid anything like too much materialism in his treatment of them until he gets well towards the centre ... Turner’s [vignettes] never seem to be shaped or put on the paper at all, but we feel as if a portion of the beautiful white surface had in some wonderful way begun to glow with the light of genius. 6