French, 1795– 1875
Limestone Peak of the Wetterhorn and Rosenlaui (Glacier cimes calcaires du Wetterhorn et glacier de Rosenlaui), 1842
oil on canvas, Museum of Natural History, Paris
Jean Charles Joseph Rémond painted this landscape for the Museum of Natural History’s new Gallery of Mineralogy in Paris. He not only traveled to the site, but also studied with the geologist Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847), who was responsible for commissioning paintings of the world’s most significant natural wonders. An understanding of the different types of rocks, their structures and conditions of formation, was considered essential for the success of the museum’s unique project.
Rémond conceived his painting as a pedagogic tool for aspiring geologists, In contrast to the fragments of rock exhibited in cases nearby, the artist presents an entire geological formation, an opportunity to study the origin and configuration of alpine landscapes. For students and visitors who could not make the journey, these paintings were the closest substitute for firsthand observation.
The artist’s vantage point emphasizes the path of the receding glacier and suggests how the valley in the foreground was carved. The melt water draining from the Rosenlaui Glacier, the source of the streams and river, represents another lesson in glacial dynamics.
During this important period in European cultural history, geology was glorified by art and natural science elevated landscape painting. For the first time in the history of French patronage, nature becomes the exclusive subject matter for the decoration of a public space. The Museum of Natural History’s grand landscape project was completed in 1871. (See the artist Claude Sebastian Hugard de la Tour’s paintings for The School of Mining in Paris for a similar creative collaboration between science and art.)