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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Chateau d'Argent, above Villeneuve, Val d'Aosta, with Mount Emilius c.1803

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Chateau d’Argent, above Villeneuve, Val d’Aosta, with Mount Emilius c.1803
Turner Bequest LXXX B
Pencil and watercolour with stopping out on white wove paper, partly prepared with a grey wash, 200 x 273 mm
Stamped in black ‘LXXX B’ bottom right
Blind-stamped with the Turner Bequest monogram within drawn area, towards bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Probably an unfinished watercolour rather than a preparatory colour study, this is based on a monochrome drawing in the Grenoble sketchbook (Tate D04500; Turner Bequest LXXIV 8), itself worked up from a first sketch made in the same book (Tate D40200) as Turner travelled in 1802. A label inscribed by Turner ‘Chateau de Aoust’ must have been attached to the monochrome when it was mounted in an album compiled by the artist, and accounted for the titles used when the watercolour and monochrome were exhibited together in the early Turner display at Marlborough House. As observed by David Hill, the building is the Château d’Argent, seen as Turner approached Villeneuve in the Val d’Aosta from the Fort Roch road. The towers of the castle are silhouetted against the snowy slopes of Mount Emilius.
The monochrome drawing is classically composed, framed by trees on both sides, and includes a flock of sheep in the foreground. In the watercolour, Turner kept only the trunks of the left-hand trees and omitted most of the sheep. In Paris on his way home from the Alps in 1802, he told Joseph Farington that ‘The weather was very fine’1 and although painted from memory the watercolour vividly conveys a sunlit day with clear, crystalline air and snow sparkling on the mountain top. These effects survive despite considerable fading, not least because the highlights are made by stopping out or leaving the white paper exposed.
Ruskin’s Marlborough House catalogue entry for this work is highly critical:
This drawing, which I found in another parcel, is placed with the pencil study [D04500] of which it is the amplification, that it may be seen how much the painter was yet hampered by old rules and formal precedents. He is still trying to tame the Alps into submission to Richard Wilson; but finds the result unsatisfactory, and leaves it unfinished.
But I am much puzzled by the feebleness of the drawing, and could almost imagine it a pupil’s copy from one of Turner’s. The laying in of the clouds, however, cannot but be his; and it is to be noted in general, that while, during his first period, his handling was bold both in pencil and oil-colour, his water-colours were frequently delicate, and even, in the present instance, timid, in the extreme.2
Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre eds., The Diary of Joseph Farington, Vol.V, New Haven and London 1979, p.1890.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, pp.263–4.
Technical notes:
The paper is without watermark.
The watercolour has been made within a rough border, without ruled outlines; the border is washed grey but the image is worked over the original white ground, allowing for stopping out of white highlights. Splashes of colour in the right-hand border seem to be random, rather than colour trials. There is a repair at lower left.

David Blayney Brown
January 2012

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘The Chateau d’Argent, above Villeneuve, Val d’Aosta, with Mount Emilius c.1803 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, January 2012, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-chateau-dargent-above-villeneuve-val-daosta-with-mount-r1147456, accessed 17 August 2018.