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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851, British

Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland

Former Title(s):

Glacier and Source of the Arveyron, Chamonix

Source of the Arveyron

Additional Title(s):

Glacier and Source of the Arveiron, Going Up to the Mer de Glace

Watercolor, graphite, gum, scraping out and stopping out on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper mounted on thick, smooth wove paper
Sheet: 27 3/4 x 41 inches (70.5 x 104.1 cm)

Inscribed on back of mount in graphite, lower left: "27 1/8 X 40 1/2"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
clouds | geology | glacier | Grand Tour | ice | ice | landscape | meteorology | mountains | river | science | sheep | shepherd | snake | snow | trees | valley
Associated Places:
Alps | Europe | Mer de Glace (glacier) | Mont Blanc | Switzerland
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Between 1799 and 1815, the wars with Napoleon made recreational travel on the Continent more or less impossible, with the exception of a period of less than a year following the 1802 Treaty of Amiens. Turner took advantage of the temporary cessation of hostilities to make his first trip to the Continent, spending three months traveling through France and Switzerland and making more than five hundred sketches. On his return, he dismantled two of his sketchbooks and mounted over a hundred of the most highly finished drawings in an album to show prospective patrons. This proved to be an effective strategy, as Turner received numerous commissions for finished watercolors of Alpine views from collectors, including Walter Fawkes, who was to become one of the artist’s closest friends and most supportive patrons, and who owned this drawing. The watercolor has traditionally been identified with one of Turner’s 1803 Royal Academy submissions, entitled “Glacier and Source of the Arveron, Going Up to the Mer de Glace”, but Eric Shanes has recently suggested that the exhibited work was a watercolor formerly owned by Fawkes and now in the National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff (Wilton, “Turner”, 1979, no. 376) and that Turner made the present drawing for Fawkes around 1814. Both watercolors were included in an exhibition Fawkes held at his London house in 1819. Shanes has painstakingly examined the catalogue and contemporary representations of the installation, noting that the Center’s drawing was exhibited as “Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland”, whereas the Cardiff drawing bore the title “Source de l’Arveron, Valley of Chamouni”. Neither title corresponds exactly to the Royal Academy submission; moreover, the Cardiff drawing, which is smaller and considerably less ambitious in technical terms, seems a less likely candidate for exhibition at the Academy than the spectacular Yale watercolor. In the absence of conclusive documentary evidence, much of this argument depends on technical and stylistic issues. Although Shanes’s suggestion that an 1803 dating for this highly sophisticated watercolor is too early may be persuasive, it is not inconceivable that Turner could have produced it at that moment in his career, and a dating of 1814 seems somewhat late. Shanes’s thesis is extremely thought provoking, however, and merits more detailed discussion than this entry permits.

Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), issue no. 59989, Thursday, April 28, 1977, p. 9, Available Online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm : Film An T842 (SML)

Timothy J. Barringer, Unto this last : two hundred years of John Ruskin, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 196, fig. 98, NJ18.R895 .B37 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 283, no. 86, pl. 86, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Denise Amy Baxter, Architectural space in eighteenth-century Europe, constructing identities and interiors , Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, England Burlington, VT, 2010, pp. 174=75, fig. 9.3, NA2850 A73 2010 (YCBA)

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, Mapping a National Style, topography & landscape at the Yale Center for British Art , Apollo, v. 165, no. 542, April, 2007, p. 58, fig. 9, N1 A54 + (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p 95, no. 146, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Christiana Payne, Silent Witnesses Trees in British Art, 1760-1870, Sansom & Co., Bristol, p. 144, fig. 75, NX650.T74 P39 2017 (YCBA)

Graham Reynolds, Turner : with a new introduction by David Blayney Brown, Thames & Hudson, London, fig. 36, NJ18.T85 R49 2020 (YCBA)

Eric Shanes, The life and masterworks of J.M.W. Turner, Parkstone Press, New York, 2008, pp. 118-19, NJ18 T85 S441 2008 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Ian Warrell, J.M.W. Turner, Tate Publishing, London, 2007, pp. 44, 54, fig. 18, NJ18 T85 A12 2007 + (YCBA)

Andrew Wilton, The life and work of J.M.W. Turner, Academy Editions, London, 1979, pp.93, 341, No. 365, pl. 90, NJ18 T85 +W577 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Mahonri Sharp Young, The Mellon Drawings at the Morgan, Apollo, vo. 95, no. 122, April, 1972, p. 334, fig. 9, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another copy available in Vertical File - V 2330

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