Joseph Mallard William Turner

British, 1775–1851

Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland, 1803
Watercolor and graphite with gum on wove paper, 28 x 41 in. (70.6 x 103.8 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut

JMW Turner journeyed to the Alps in 1802 and returned several times between 1840 and 1844. The mountains profoundly affected his vision of nature, which blended topographically accurate details with a unique, expressionistic interpretation of light and atmosphere. The artist recorded his early alpine views of Mont Blanc in a sketchbook dedicated to views of the mountain.

Mer de Glace, in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland began as a rough chalk drawing and was later transformed into a watercolor that highlights the scene’s sublime features—the chaos of wind-blasted trees, erupting clouds, and jagged mountains. Stirred by the interconnectedness of the natural world, Turner absorbed concepts of geology through his friendship with John MacCulloch (1773–1835), president of the Geological Society in Scotland.

In contrast to Jean-Antoine Linck’s inviting landscape with tourists, Turner includes a shepherd and his goats, native inhabitants of the region. A snake uncoiling on the foreground rock ominously appears to guard the landscape against outside intruders.