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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Source of the Arveron c.1812-15

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Source of the Arveron circa 1812–15
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII G
Watercolour on white wove writing paper, 221 x 314 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1807’
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
John Dillon
John Heugh by 1872, sold Christie’s, London, 24 April 1874 (84), £189
Bought by Colnaghi
Henry Vaughan by 1878
Etching and mezzotint by Henry Dawe (attributed) and Turner, ‘The Source of the Arveron in the Valley of Chamouni Savoy.’, published Turner, 1 January 1816
Turner recorded this French site in 1802, early on his journey through the Alps during his first Continental tour. The Arveyron rises from the foot of the Glacier du Bois below the Mer de Glace near Chamonix, and is a tributary of the Arve, which Turner had earlier recorded at Bonneville, also featuring in the Liber Studiorum (see Tate D08164; Turner Bequest CXVIII J). Both are among several Liber designs based on sketches in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (see also Tate D08123, D08153; Turner Bequest CXVI V, CXVII Y; and Tate N03631; in addition, Mer de Glace1 may have been etched directly from another page in the book).
There is a pencil sketch of the view, heightened with white chalk, in the St Gothard and Mont Blanc sketchbook (Tate D04612; Turner Bequest LXXV 20), and larger studies from various angles (Tate D04880, D04881, D04886, D04887; Turner Bequest LXXIX F, G, L, M), the third of which relates to the current composition. Turner exhibited a watercolour of the scene, generally identified as the large Glacier and Source of the Arveron, Going Up to the Mer de Glace, at the Royal Academy in 1803 (396) (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)2 which includes a herd of goats and prominent, blasted trees to the full height of the left foreground. However, Eric Shanes has proposed that the titles and thus the dates of the latter work, a smaller variation (Taft Museum, Cincinnati, 1931.389)3 and other Alpine views in Walter Fawkes’s collection by 1819 have since been confused and transposed, and that the Yale work was not the 1803 exhibit and should be redated to about 1814, making it contemporaneous with the Liber drawing.4 Elsewhere, it has also been suggested that a smaller ‘second version’ of about 1808, untraced since 1869, could have been a more direct source.5
In Modern Painters, Ruskin initially dismissed Turner’s depiction of pine trees in this and other Liber designs, in favour of the trees in his British subjects,6 but later praised the artist’s truthful suggestion of natural processes:
... at glacier banks, and in other places liable to disturbance, the pine may be seen distorted and oblique; and in Turner’s “Source of the Arveron,” he has ... fastened on this means of relating the glacier’s history. The glacier cannot explain its own motion; and ordinary observers saw in it only its rigidity; but Turner saw that the wonderful thing was its non-rigidity. Other ice is fixed, only this ice stirs. All the banks are staggering beneath its waves, crumbling and withered as by the blast of a perpetual storm. He made the rocks of his foreground loose – rolling and tottering down together; the pines smitten aside by them, their tops dead, bared by the ice wind.7
The composition is recorded, as ‘Source of Arveron’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).8
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, with the etching usually attributed to Henry Dawe although possibly reworked by Turner before the latter added the engraving,9 bears the publication date 1 January 1816 and was issued to subscribers as ‘The Source of the Arveron in the Valley of Chamouni Savoy.’ in part 12 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.57–61;10 see also Tate D08158–D08160, D08162; Turner Bequest CXVIII D, F, H, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E). Tate holds a photographic facsimile of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01125) and an impression of the published engraving (A01126). It is one of fourteen published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08123, D08130, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI L, R, V, CXVII C, G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B).
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1858 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi11 (see general Liber introduction). Frank Short included this composition12 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 T05052;13 see general Liber introduction).
The present work was owned in the nineteeth century by John Dillon,14 and was in John Heugh’s collection by 1872, when he lent to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Liber exhibition.15 It was auctioned at Christie’s in 1874 and acquired by the London art dealers Colnaghi;16 Henry Vaughan owned it by 1878.17 In 1947 it was rejected by British Council as the poster image for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, leg of their post-war European Turner tour, as ‘not truly representative of Turner’s work’, a decision Sam Smiles has shown to be symptomatic of the Council’s strategic characterisation of Turner as a as proto-Impressionist artist.18
Rawlinson 1878, pp.103–4 no.50; 1906, pp.121–2 no.50; Finberg 1924, pp.197–200 no.50.
Wilton 1979, p.341 no.365, reproduced p.93 pl.90 (colour).
Ibid., 1979, p.344 no.389, reproduced.
Eric Shanes, ‘Identifying Turner’s Chamonix water-colours’, Burlington Magazine, vol.142, November 2000, pp.687–94; see Wilton 1980, p.121 for discussion of sequence as traditionally understood.
Wilton 1979, p.343 no.383.
Cook and Wedderburn 1903, pp.236–7.
Ibid., Volume VII: Modern Painters: Volume V..., London 1903, p.105
Forrester 1996, p.162 (list transcribed; but title of current composition omitted in error).
Finberg 1924, p.239; see also p.lii; Forrester 1996, p.122.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.116–25; 1906, pp.137–47; Finberg 1924, pp.225–44.
Ibid.: 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; 1924, p.240.
Hardie 1938, p.50 no.11.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.72.
Forrester 1996, p.122.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, pp.41, [54].
Forrester 1996, p.122.
Rawlinson 1878, p.121.
Smiles 2007, p.182.
Technical notes:
The present sheet was once part of the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV),1 other pages of which also bear the ‘J Whatman | 1807’ watermark; as it has been trimmed to the image as engraved (intact pages in the sketchbook being 230 x 381 mm), it is not possible to establish its original location in the book by matching it to the stubs that remain there. The sheet is very flattened, with numerous small losses, as if it had passed through a printing press. The washes are of the same pigment, sometimes dense and medium-rich in a glossy medium. Some areas were reserved. The losses are more evident than the scratching-out. The overall mid-brown colour comprises a single burnt sienna pigment.2 Gillian Forrester has suggested that in view of technical similarities and the proximity of their topography, Turner may have conceived this design and that for Mill near the Grande Chartreuse (Tate D08156; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B), also originally a page in the Studies for Liber sketchbook, as a pair.3
Forrester 1996, pp.15, 24 note 82, 122 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); see also Bower, Tate conservation files.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Forrester 1996, p.122.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘60’ and ‘E’ centre right, ‘60’ bottom left, and ‘6’ [circled] bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G’ bottom centre

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Source of the Arveron 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-the-source-of-the-arveron-r1131764, accessed 20 June 2024.